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Minn. wine industry booming, but is it sustainable?

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A study by the University of Minnesota Extension shows state-made wine grew to a nearly $60 million industry and created 3,250 jobs in 2011, but experts question how it will continue to thrive.

Minnesota wineries sold 540,000 bottles in the same year, but only about 15 percent of those sales were made in liquor stores. The majority of wine, 63 percent, was purchased at wineries and their tasting rooms, which host special events such as weddings or live music.

Local wines make up only about 1 percent of state wine sales, according to a MinnPost report.

"This is very much a customer-comes-to-us scenario. To grow, they'll need to look at other ways to make those sales," extension researcher Brigid Tuck said in a news release.

There's no doubt the industry has grown in the last two decades. MinnPost points out that in 1990, there were two licensed wineries and fewer than 20 vineyards in the state. Now, those numbers have grown to more than 60 wineries and 600 vineyards.

The study shows that nearly half the grapes growing in Minnesota were planted after 2007 and half of vineyards surveyed said they planned to increase their acreage.

Katie Cook, an enologist at the University of Minnesota, told MinnPost that the state's wine industry is still very young and "in the middle of a classic adolescent identity crisis."

Cold-climate wines tend to be lighter, lower in alcohol, more acidic and sweeter. Cook said she can see Minnesota’s future as a specialty wine region, one that may someday become known for light ros�� and high-quality dessert wines, but it's not there yet.

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