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Vintage Illinois: A Journey Through Illinois Wine Making

Updated on January 26, 2024
LisaRoppolo profile image

Lisa is a writer and gardener with extensive knowledge of plants and plant care. Her articles focus on easy-care tips for home gardeners.

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.

Raspberry & Almond infusions at August Hill Winery in Utica, IL
Raspberry & Almond infusions at August Hill Winery in Utica, IL | Source

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.

Wine Tasting at Vintage Illinois Wine Fest, Utica, IL
Wine Tasting at Vintage Illinois Wine Fest, Utica, IL | Source
Illinois River Winery Lil' Red Truck
Illinois River Winery Lil' Red Truck | Source

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 21 and 22, 2024 in Carey Memorial Park, downtown North Utica, IL. (see 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 my favorite winery: August Hill 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.

Utica, IL Home of the Vintage Illinois Wine Fest

August Hill Winery:
106 Mill Street, Illinois and Michigan Canal, North Utica, IL 61373, USA

get directions

carey memorial park, north utica IL:
Carey Memorial Park, North Utica, IL 61373, USA

get directions

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Ottawa, IL -Ottawa Uncorked (formerly Two Rivers Wine and Jazz fest)

Ottawa, IL is another great town with a rich history. Visit the square where the Lincoln-Douglas debates happened. Every June Ottawa has Ottawa Uncorked, which include many Illinois wineries, arts and crafts booths, Jazz and Lobster!

Dates for the 2024 festival have not been published yet, but it usually takes place in June. Check back to the Ottawa IL website for more information.

Welcome to Ottawa, Illinois I Starved Rock Country I Pick Us! Ottawa Illinois – Pick Us! – Ottawa Visitors Center (

Two Rivers Wine Fest, Ottawa, IL

Two Rivers Wine Fest :
101 West Main Street, Illinois and Michigan Canal, Ottawa, IL 61350, USA

get directions

Wine Tasting Display
Wine Tasting Display | Source

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)

Winery Locations

Baxter's Vineyard:
Nauvoo, IL, USA

get directions

Galena Cellars:
Galena, IL 61036, USA

get directions

Massbach Ridge Winery:
Elizabeth, IL 61028, USA

get directions

Hill Prairie Winery:
Oakford, IL 62673, USA

get directions

Pheasant Hollow Winery:
Whittington, IL 62897, USA

get directions

Starved Rock Trolley shutters people to the wine fest from the Starved Rock Lodge and Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort
Starved Rock Trolley shutters people to the wine fest from the Starved Rock Lodge and Grizzly Jack's Grand Bear Resort | Source
August Hill Winery Carmel Apple wine
August Hill Winery Carmel Apple wine | Source

Illinois Wine Making History Timeline

This information is courtesy of the Illinois Wine Making Association and more information can be found at 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!

Based on the information in this article, how likely will you visit an Illinois winery?

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© 2014 Lisa Roppolo


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