Iowa State University Unveils Wine From Campus-Grown Grapes

Photo: Iowa State University

(Ames, IA) – Iowa State University is showing off the fruits of a crop that's been about a decade in the making. Grapes were harvested last year in a test plot near Gilbert, from vines established in 2011. The result: 3.5 tons of cold-weather, red and white grapes, which were made into enough wine to fill one thousand bottles.

Enology Program Specialist Jennie Savits says the Marquette and La Crescent grapes last fall led to 828 bottles of La Crescent, 444 bottles of Marquette and 420 bottles of Rosé wine.

Savits says the La Crescent grape is ideal for producing aromatic white wines – very fruity and floral with crisp acidity, which pairs nicely with food. The Marquette grape produces light- to medium-body red wines with dark berry fruits, cherries and spice. It can also be used to make Rosé and fortified style wines.

Savits says the space in the Food Sciences Building used to make the wine was renovated in 2019. The footprint of the room is compact, however it houses winemaking equipment similar to what can be found in many wineries across the state. Ruth MacDonald, MGWII interim director, facilitated the construction by working with colleagues in the Center for Crops Utilization Research when an opportunity arose to repurpose space in the center’s pilot plants.

“We had to be intentional in how to successfully process the wine in the small space,” Savits said. “It gave us a lot of perspective to help us do a better job of helping wineries who come to us for advice or assistance in making their own wines.”

Plans are underway to make the wine available for purchase in campus venues such as the ISU Book Store or at the ISU Alumni Center.

“It’s really awesome to showcase what we’re able to produce with specialty crops in Iowa and help bring value-added ag products to people’s tables,” Savits said.

Looking ahead, the MGWII staff plan to produce another batch of the same three wines, taking what they learned and improving upon the process.

“I’m really proud of the wine and our team,” Savits said. “There were some challenges along the way, but those challenges offered opportunities to grow.

The Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute at Iowa State University is the first of its kind in Iowa. Established in 2006, the program serves to provide resources, conduct research and connect grape growers and winemakers to valuable information about enology and viticulture in Iowa and throughout the Midwest.

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