Vintage Illinois: A Journey Through Illinois Wine Making
It's Not Always About Napa Valley
There is more wine making going on east of the Rocky Mountains than people think. We may not be the most advertised or most talked about, but our wines are just as tasty as those produced on the west coast.
Here in Illinois, we have over 450 different vineyards scattered throughout the state and are considered one of the 12 top wine producing states in the country. Illinois wine making has grown from only 12 wineries in 1997 to over 70 wineries today.
A large part of this are lands that were reclaimed, many of which reside along rivers which form the perfect micro climate for grape growing.
Varietals that Grow Best in Illinois
There are six varietals that are grown in Illinois. Five of these are stock that originated from France that came over with the first French settlers during the fur trade. The sixth type is from Native American stock.
Chambourcin: (France) Is a late ripening variety with dark purple, almost black fruit. It is usually used to make dark red wines like claret and Bordeaux. Sometimes it is also used to make Rose.
Seyval: (France) has light yellow/green fruit and is used to make white wines like Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio. It has fruit undertones.
Vignoles: (France) Similar to Syval, but sweeter. Used to make sweet whites and dessert wines.
Chardonel: (France) Is a French Hybrid with light green fruit. It produces crisp and dry white wines.
Vidal Blanc: (French) Similar to a Savignon Blanc, it is white and fruity.
Norton: (Native American) Blue/Purple fruits produce dark red wines with undertones of plum and cherry.
Vintage Illinois Wine Festival and Utica, IL
Utica, IL is the home of the annual Vintage Illinois Wine festival, which features 30 wineries from Illinois. It is one of the largest wine festivals held in the state and a great place to sample all that Illinois has to offer without having to drive the entire state.
This year the wine fest will be held September 16th and 17th, 2017 in the Matthiessen State Park picnic grounds just south of route 71. (see www.vintageillinois.com for more information)
Utica, IL is a great little town for those who like vintage charm. It is located right on the Illinois River and has wonderful state parks (Starved Rock State Park and Matthiessen State Park).
Utica is home to two of my favorites wineries: August Hill Winery and Illinois River Winery.
August Hill Winery (Located in downtown Utica)
My Favorites by August Hill: Sweet Catawba, Raspberry Infusion (Sparkling) and Almond Infusion (Sparkling). They have a wide selection of dry and sweet reds, whites and sparkling wines. Whatever your taste, they have something you will enjoy.
Illinois River Winery (located just south of downtown Utica)
My Favorites by Illinois River Winery: Spring Fling (semi-sweet white),Chateau Amour (dark red cherry wine with chocolate),First Blush (Rose wine),Hallowine (Apple with clove, cinnamon ). Like August Hill, they have a great selection of dry reds, whites and dessert wines.
Utica, IL Home of the Vintage Illinois Wine Fest
Where Vintage Illinois Wine Fest is held
Do you enjoy going to wine festivals?
Ottawa, IL and the Two Rivers Wine Fest
Ottawa, IL is another great town with a rich history. Visit the square where the Lincoln-Douglas debates happened. Every June Ottawa has the Two Rivers Wine Fest, which include many Illinois wineries, arts and crafts booths, Jazz and Lobster!
This year's wine fest will take place June 9th through 11th, 2017, TBD 2018 dates in downtown Ottawa.
(See www.ottawa2riverswinefest.com for more information)
Two Rivers Wine Fest, Ottawa, IL
Five More Great Wineries Worth Trying
I've tried many a wine and have gone to several wine tastings. These five have stood out to me time and time again as some of the best wineries in Illinois. Even though this is a short list, I encourage anyone coming for a visit to go to one of these wine festivals and try as many as you can. While there are 6 different types of grapes grown here, the wines produced run the whole gamut of flavors, colors and pairings.
Baxter’s Vineyard: The oldest vineyard in the state located in Nauvoo, IL
Favorites: Fireside Spice (semi-sweet blend with apple, clove, cinnamon), Classic Concord (Concord semi-sweet wine)
Galena Cellars: Galena, IL
Favorites; Senior Sangria (Red), Seniorita Sangria (White)
Pheasant Hollow Winery: Whittington, IL
Favorites: Cracklin’ Cranberry (Sparkling), Pink Lace (Rose/Blush), Concord (sweet grape)
Hill Prairie Winery: Oakford, IL
Favorites: Cranberry, Autumn Spice
Massbach Ridge Winery: Elizabeth, IL
Favorites: Daffodil (Sweet white with peach and honey undertones)
Illinois Wine Making History Timeline
This information is courtesy of the Illinois Wine Making Association and more information can be found at www.illinoiswine.org. They have wine trail maps and a complete list of wineries in the state with contact information.
• 1778 – French settlers in La Ville de Maillet (what is now Peoria) bring the winemaking expertise of their homeland to Illinois. The village features a wine press and an underground wine vault.
• 1857 – Emile Baxter and Sons open a winery in Nauvoo, along the banks of the Mississippi River. Baxter’s Vineyards remains Illinois’ oldest operating winery, run by a fifth generation of Baxters.
• 1900 – Illinois is the fourth-largest wine producing state in the nation.
• 1920 – The Prohibition Act stops all legal winemaking. Some Illinois vineyards continue to grow table grapes, others uproot their vines to make way for corn and soybeans.
• 1979 – 1995 – Wineries and vineyards are established throughout the northern, central and southern regions of Illinois.
• 1995 – The owners of Alto Vineyards, Owl Creek Vineyards and Pomona Winery in southern Illinois meet with area tourism officials and form the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
• 2001 – Illinois boasts 27 wineries.
• 2005 – Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich designates September as “Illinois Wine Month.”
• 2006 – A region in Southern Illinois is recognized as the Shawnee Hills American Viticulture Area (AVA) by the federal government. Illinois’ first AVA designation, this area encompasses 21 wineries and 55 vineyards.
• 2009 – The Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA is established becoming the largest in the U.S. This AVA includes regions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois and represents 32 wineries and 445 vineyard acres.
Come for a Visit!
Illinois is more than just dirty Chicago politics. There is an entire world out there, far away from Chicago that offers many scenic drives, recreation, farm land and wine making! I hope this article gave you a bit of a teaser and piqued your interest in seeing what Illinois has to offer!