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Minnesota wine comes into its own

Extension study shows economic value of wine industry, challenges ahead

Photo: Alexis Bailly Vineyard

Minnesota wineries offer an experience for tourists and locals alike. Pictured: The winery at Alexis Bailly Vineyard produces award-winning wines from cold-hardy grapes, such as Frontenac (left), developed at the University of Minnesota.

Brigid Tuck

Brigid Tuck

Fifteen years after the introduction of cold-hardy grapes to Minnesota, a burgeoning vineyard and winery industry has taken root.

Last summer, University of Minnesota Extension economic impact analyst Brigid Tuck completed the most exhaustive analysis of Minnesota's wine industry (PDF) since its inception.

"Like any enterprise, Minnesota's wine industry will need to keep evolving and stay savvy," she says. "It's no longer a novel enterprise."

Among her findings: In 2011, the most recent year data could be studied, the wine industry contributed $59 million to Minnesota's economy. Another Extension report showed that the Minnesota cold-hardy grapes pumped $401 million into the U.S. economy and created 12,600 jobs.

Also, Minnesota's wine industry is a largely rural phenomenon. Nearly 63 percent of all Minnesota wine is purchased at the vineyards and wineries that pepper the landscape, mainly in the southern part of the state.

To keep a steady stream of customers, vintners have focused on event marketing. Weddings, concerts, charity events and other "draws" expose new customers to Minnesota wine and keep customers coming back. Continued collaboration in agri-tourism efforts like wine trails, which connect vineyards and wineries through various points in rural Minnesota, holds market growth potential, Tuck says.

"Business at our winery doubled last year because of events," says Terri Savaryn, co-owner of Sovereign Estates Wine in Waconia and communications chairperson for the Minnesota Grape Growers Association. She focuses on corporate events, grape stomps, hors d'oeuvres classes and concerts.

The development of cold-hardy grapes—including Frontenac, La Crescent and Marquette—helped make the University of Minnesota a nationally respected leader in wine grape research. Owners of 101 vineyards and 34 wineries in Minnesota responded to the survey Tuck carried out with University applied economics professor William Gartner.

Photo: St. Croix Vineyards

Visitors to a summer grape stomp at St. Croix Vineyards in Stillwater come away with enough bottles of wine and memories to last until their next visit.

During its comparatively short life, Minnesota's wine industry has been able to track its growth, thanks to two major studies undertaken at Extension. "Because Extension reports are carried out independently, grant-makers and other investors trust the information," adds Savaryn.

The ability to pinpoint challenges and opportunities has offered this distinctive member of Minnesota's agricultural community the data it needs to plan for smart growth. Nearly 76 percent of Minnesota wineries plan expansion within the next five years, as do 50 percent of the vineyards.

Beyond the bottle

Marketing-savvy wineries bring in customers by hosting tastings, classes, concerts and events. Minnesota's wine and grapes industry is aging well:

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