September 18, 2014

More wineries adding beer to keep all customers happy

The State Alcoholic Beverages Division reports that dozens of Iowa wineries now have licenses to sell beer as well as wine. It’s a new business model that began  with a new law four years ago. The Brick Arch Winery in West Branch sells its own wine, plus Mill Stream on tap and bottled beer.

Ilene Lande co-owns Brick Arch — one of 46 wineries licensed to sell both beverages. “Typically, as you call them they’re the beer husbands, he only prefers beer, she only prefers wine. He doesn’t want to go to a place where they only serve wine because there’s nothing for him to enjoy,” Lande says.

Live music, weddings and reunions are an important source of revenue for the wineries. Lande says beer is about 10-percent of their business. “Yes we do lose some wine sales to beer, but we are face it in the entertainment as well as the wine business, and it’s our job to provide customers what they enjoy,” Lande says.

In St. Charles, the Madison County Winery even has an adjacent brewery, separated by a chain link fence to stay legal. Doug Bakker owns the winery. “I think you miss half your customer base if you don’t offer beer,” Bakker says. Bakker says it’s important for the bottom line to offer what the customers want. “Sixty-percent of the people come for the wine — or a little more — and anywhere from 35-40-percent are drinking beer,” according to Bakker. “It just adds one more element to the agri-tourism thing.”

There’s even a new autumn celebration: the fresh hops beer festival, at the Madison County Winery. Some purists however, have no intention of diluting their business with beer. At Iowa’s largest winery, Bob Wersen says, “Tassel Ridge is focused on showing Iowans how to use wine.”