Leaders in the state’s wine industry are toasting an initial victory at the statehouse. A bill that cleared a Senate committee this week sets aside a quarter of a MILLION dollars in state taxes on wine so the state ag department can hire an “enologist” (prnounced EE-nawl-uh-jist) — an expert on wine-making. Paul Tabor who runs Tabor Home Vineyard in Jackson County, near Maquoketa, says the idea is to help Iowa vineyards produce quality wine. “Get a person on board in the state who could put together a program that would develop support for all of these new wineries in the state,” he says. “The initial hire may be somebody to put a program together, then there would need to be people in the field (who) would actually offer education classes or educational seminars as well as personal visits to the wineries to sort of check and help with analysis.” Ron Mark runs the Summerset Winery near Indianola. “We have a very unique problem here in the Midwest with our (varieties) of grapes,” Mark says. He says a professor from Southwest Missouri State would like to come to Iowa work with the cold, hardy varieties and the styles of wine that are made from those, as the grapes here are unlike what’s made in the rest of the world. “If we can get him on board and in a position with a program, we have the potential of bringing people from all over the world to learn about these and make it the third leg of the wine industry in the United States,” Mark says. “That is there’s an east coast, a west coast and the Midwest.” Bill Brown runs the Timberhill Winery in Decatur County and he is confident lawmakers will ratify the idea soon. “I think the legislature understands that this is something that is for the culture of Iowa,” Brown says. Brown says growing grapes on farmland is a better return on your investment than growing corn. “They say that for an acre of corn that you can make, what, $200, $300,” he says. “If you have an acre of grapes and turn it into wine, you can turn it into several thousand dollars.” Brown says Iowa’s wine industry has “exploded” since the turn of the century, and they want to avoid what happened in Missouri. “One of the problems that happened in Missouri was they came out with some very low quality wines and it took them 15 years to get over that,” Brown says. “We’d like to avoid that, if possible.” The three men testified this past week before the Senate Natural Resources Committee, moments before the committee approved the winery legislation. About three percent of the wine consumed in Iowa is locally produced.
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