MADISON, Wis. (SPECTRUM NEWS) — Grape and wine production is growing in Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Winery Association reports that in 2000 there were less than 100 acres of vineyards planted in the state. Now, it's well above 1,000. There were also 13 wineries back then, and now there are more than 110.
WWA President Ryan Prellwitz said it has a lot to do with a desire to buy local.
“Wisconsin is a very local friendly state. People pursue what's grown in Wisconsin,” Prellwitz said.
There's more at play though. Several vine hybrids have been developed over the years that can survive in Wisconsin's cold winters.
“I think people are interested in drinking local wines," said Amaya Atucha, a fruit crop specialist with the University of Wisconsin. "The main reason why we have the grape production we have in Wisconsin nowadays is because of those cold variety grapes that we have.”
Atucha said most of the developments with the cold-weather vines come from the University of Minnesota. However, she and other professors at the UW research grape growing practices and present to grape growers and wineries across the state. They've noticed the increase too.
“Even in the last five years we have seen a pretty sharp increase in terms of acreage and also of wineries new wineries,” Atucha said.
Prellwitz and Atucha say the growth reaches every part of the state. With some small pockets in areas like Door County, Sauk County and the western border of Wisconsin. Prellwitz said the increase has happened relatively incrementally over the past decade or two.
Randy Hartung, president of the Wisconsin Grape Growers Association and co-founder of Three Branches Vineyard, agrees it's been a consistent growth over time. However, he says the past few years the WGGA has seen acreage roughly double.
“We've just had literally an explosion of acreage in the last five years, and we're part of that in part because of the popularity of Wisconsin wines,” Hartung said.
Hartung and his wife started Three Branches Winery in 2010. It was about 2014 before they turned a grape crop as vines take a while to mature.
Hartung stays on top of new vines, planting more strands each year.
“Prior to 2005, the varieties simply didn't exist in the upper-Midwest,” he said.
Growing is just part of it. Hartung sells to six wineries, all within a two-hour drive of his vineyard in Arena, Wis. He says the wine and other products are helping drive the industry growth.
“It really comes down to what they can put in the glass, and they can put some really good wines in the glass,” Hartung said.
Prellwitz builds off of that and said it's not just the fact that the wine is local.
“I think the consumer is looking for something more than what they've always been given,” he said.
Wines being produced in Wisconsin come from brand new varieties, and often have different taste than what someone may be used to. Prellwitz points out about half of the wine in the U.S. is produced in California, and people may be used to it.
The winery industry can also help drive tourism, Atucha said.
“It's really nice to go there into the vineyards on a summer day like today and taste some of these wines and just look at the beautiful vineyards,” she said.
The growth in the wine and grape industry in Wisconsin is being noticed. In June Gov. Tony Evers (D-Wisconsin) signed a proclamation declaring July 14 through 20 Wisconsin Vineyard Week.