Iowa Wines to Debut VQA Seal

State winery association worked for five years to develop quality alliance plan

by Hudson Cattell
iowa quality vintners alliance
Only wines fermented and bottled by iowa wineries are eligible to bear the Iowa VQA seal.
Des Moines, Iowa—The seal of Vintners Quality Alliance (VQA) wines has long been associated with fine Canadian wines, not with vintages from the Midwestern heartland of the United States. Starting in January 2012, however, Iowa vintners will begin using the IVQA label for Iowa-produced wines available to consumers. The Iowa Wine Growers Association began to develop a Vintners Quality Alliance program of its own about five years ago: It took that long to establish guidelines and procedures for the state program.

Only wines fermented and bottled by Iowa wineries are eligible for participation in the Iowa VQA program. The wineries must be members of the Iowa Wine Growers Association (IWGA) and pay the group annual dues of $250. The dues structure includes the right to submit five wines for evaluation. A $50 fee will be charged for each additional wine submitted.

All wines must first pass laboratory chemical analysis at the Iowa State University’s Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute in Ames, Iowa. Wines that pass the lab test are submitted for sensory evaluation by a five-member panel. The panel uses a modified 20-point Davis scoring system. To be eligible for the IVQA seal, a wine must receive a score of at least 13 points.

Wines that qualify are awarded one of two quality seals. The “Iowa Quality Wine Seal” is awarded to varietal wines made from a minimum of 75% Iowa-grown grapes. The “Quality Wine” seal is awarded to wines produced from less than 75% Iowa-grown grapes, other fruits and/or other winemaking materials, and processed according to IVQA guidelines. Wineries with qualifying wines may purchase stickers to place on their bottles.

Origins of VQA
From the time extension enologist Dr. Murli Dharmadhikari arrived at Iowa State University in 2005, he envisioned a VQA program for Iowa wines. In 2006, he began talking with members of the Iowa Wine Growers Association, who soon realized it would be to their advantage to buy into the idea. IVQA wines would be a way to increase profitability, because quality wine could be sold at higher prices.

The next step came in 2007, when the university established the Midwest Grape and Wine Industry Institute and a wine lab became available. It took another two years to train and qualify individuals to serve on the sensory panels. Two panels serve during alternating months throughout the year; each year 14 or more qualified individuals are added to the panel member pool.

The Iowa Vintners Quality Alliance is modeled upon the Canadian VQA system. Among the many issues to be resolved were the types of wines that would qualify for VQA status. Because one of the purposes of the program is to raise the quality of all Iowa wines, it was decided not to limit the awards to certain vinifera or hybrid varieties, as Canada does, but to allow awards to be made to wines fermented from all kinds of winemaking materials.

The emphasis on wine quality standards has been instrumental in improving the quality of all Iowa wines. When the first monthly tests were performed, only between 20% and 40% of the entries met quality standards. That percentage soon rose to 60%, and the ratio continues to improve.

Michael L. White, Iowa State University extension viticulture specialist, told Wines & Vines, “The real benefit behind this program is that it has gotten all wineries to improve wine quality.” He would not be surprised, he said, to see the passing percentage of wines to reach 85% in the not-too-distant future. The IVQA program is expected to benefit the Iowa wine industry by giving consumers greater confidence when they buy Iowa wines. According to WinesVinesDATA, there are currently 87 wineries in Iowa.

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