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Wisconsin wine business booming

(AP) — Wisconsin's wine industry has grown substantially since 2000 when it had just 13 wineries.

Wisconsin has more than 140 wineries today, making it a destination for wine tourists, Wisconsin Public Radio reported. People made nearly 2 million visits to wineries in Wisconsin in 2015, and the state saw an estimated nearly $50 million in direct spending on wine tourism.

"Between that and some of the other spending on things that wineries contribute to the economy — such as jobs, and tax revenue to different governmental agencies, and industrial purchases and things — it's really closer to between $200 and $300 million by the time you add everything up," said Alwyn Fitzgerald, Wisconsin Winery Association president and Fisher King Winery winemaker.

He said the growth is part of the larger local food trend.

"People like to know where their food and drink comes from; and if you grow the grapes 30 miles from your winery, or at your winery, and you make the wine right there, and you can sit there in your local Wisconsin location and enjoy your wine, that is totally reflective of Wisconsin grapes and enology, it doesn't get any more local than that," Fitzgerald said.

He said having more wineries in the state gives people more of a variety of places to try.

Because of the state's cold climate, the only varieties that can survive are "cold hardy hybrid grapes," versus classic wine grapes such as cabernet and riesling, which can thrive only in more temperate climates. Fitzgerald said grapes grown is Wisconsin tend to have fruity, berry-like flavors as well as a light body and higher acidity.

Fitzgerald got into the wine business after more than three decades working a corporate job.

"I didn't wanna be the 85-year-old guy looking back saying, 'Oh, why didn't I do that?!'" he said.

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