With local foods getting marquee treatment on grocery shelves and restaurant menus, Wisconsin winemakers want to make sure they have a place at the table. And they’ve earned it, a recent UW-Madison survey indicates.
The survey of Wisconsin winery owners found that virtually all of them are producing at least one type of wine from grapes and other fruits grown in Wisconsin. The study was conducted by assistant professor and UW-Extension communications specialist Bret Shaw and UW-Madison graduate student Camille Rogers. The two interviewed a sample of 25 winemakers located in Door County, the driftless region, the Fox River valley, northern Wisconsin and southeast Wisconsin.
All but one of those interviewed said that they made their product from grapes and other fruits grown in their own region or elsewhere in Wisconsin. Most acknowledged that they sometimes had to buy fruit from out-of-state—mostly because of uncertain crop yields tied to the state’s climate—but expressed a preference for using locally produced ingredients.
Economics was a big motivation. Local fruit costs less to ship and handle, and it’s also a good marketing tool, the winemakers said. Many indicated that their retail customer base consists largely of tourists seeking a Wisconsin experience or “foodies” looking for unique tasting opportunities, and that branding their products as “local” was a way to appeal to those demographics. For the same reason, a number of winery retail stores also stock complementary Wisconsin-made food products such as artisan cheese and sausage.
But the winemakers also offered intangible reasons for focusing on using locally grown fruits. Most said they felt that buying locally gave them a lighter environmental footprint. And a number of them favored partnering with local growers to strengthen ties to the community. Some of the winemakers said they had ties to local farms that went back a generation or more.
The survey was conducted in partnership with UW-Extension and the Wisconsin Department of Tourism’s Travel Green Wisconsin initiative, the nation’s first state-sponsored comprehensive green travel certification program.