Wine industry growing in Western Wisconsin

Cold hardy grapes lead to growth in industry

Wineries are popping up across Wisconsin.

The recent uptick in the Wisconsin wine industry over the past decade has a lot to do with science.

It’s all because of a special type of grape that can withstand the colder climates, and it’s leading to a boom in the tourism industry.

Elmaro Vineyards in Trempealeau County not only has the views, but also the grapes.

“Yesterday, we pick our Edelweiss. This weekend and next week we expect more Edelweiss from more growers to come in,” owner Lynita Delaney said.

Since planting its first grapes in 2005, Delaney said Elmaro has turned into a destination for people looking to get their taste of the wine.

“When we first started, I expected to have people drive in the driveway, I would hear a bell in the basement, and I’d be able to run up from the cellar and wait on them and visit. And it’s turned into the winery of the year in Wisconsin,” Delaney said.

Experts said the winery industry in the upper Midwest has changed dramatically in a short time.

“Just in the last 15 years or 20 years, it’s dramatically increased,” said Tim Gerber, a professor at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse.

But traditional grapes cannot withstand our cold climate in Wisconsin.

“You have to have cold hardy grapes that can tolerate our weather conditions,” Gerber said.

University of Minnesota researchers have developed cold hardy grapes that many of us drink at our local wineries.

“They have many varieties that they’ve produced that our cold hardy that can grow in this area,” Gerber said. “So the Frontenec, the La Crescent, the Marquette’s.”

“The only reason we can have wines like La Crescent, Marquette, St. Pepin are because of those developers,” Delaney said.

Because of that science and the natural beauty, our area is quickly becoming a destination for wine.

“You can go down the Mississippi River Valley. It’s beautiful, just the area itself, and you can hit all these different wineries,” Gerber said.

“It’s becoming more of an influence on why people come to Wisconsin, and why people go up and down the Great River Road,” Delaney said.

Elmaro Vineyards said the grapes being developed for the cold climates are changing as well.

Newer varieties are always improving the taste of the grapes and becoming more disease resistant.