Schrader: Our very own wine country
By CAROLINE SCHRADER Correspondent October 3, 2012 1:28PM
Today, the Illinois wine industry creates an economic impact of $250 million annually, and is among the top 12 wine-producing states. | File Photos
Updated: November 5, 2012 11:07AM
It’s the most wonderful time of the year. A crisp air now marks our days, the leaves are beginning to fall and the 2012 harvest is well under way. Fall brings a buzz of activity in the vineyards with the harvesting of grapes. Harvest workers are spending long hours tending to the vines they have painstakingly cared for all year, and consumers are anxiously waiting to reap the rewards.
The buzz isn’t just coming from the wine country out west, though. No, the activity is coming from our own back yard, loud and clear, at the more than 80 wineries that are scattered throughout the Illinois countryside. That’s right, Illinois makes wine. And if you haven’t yet tried the wine from our local vintners, you should. Our very own Illinois wine country is leaving a great taste in people’s mouths with award producing wines that can hold their own on a national stage. September is officially Illinois Wine Month, and there’s plenty to celebrate with the harvest and high quality wines being produced.
Illinois’ winemaking tradition dates back to the 1700s. In 1778, French settlers brought their winemaking expertise to a village called La Ville de Maillet, now known as Peoria, establishing a winepress and an underground wine vault. By the 1900s, Illinois was the - fourth - largest wine producing state in the country. In 1920, Prohibition put an end to winemaking. Some Illinois vineyards continued to grow grapes, which were then shipped to northern markets as table grapes. Others uprooted their vines to clear land for corn and soybeans. In 1933, Prohibition was repealed and the Illinois winemaking industry was back in production. Over time, the wine industry in Illinois has grown significantly, from just 12 wineries in 1997 to more than 80 today.
One unique aspect of Illinois’ wine country is the grapes that the winemakers are using. There are six common varietals that make up more than 75 percent of the state’s total grape acreage. Five of these grapes —Chambourcin, Seyval, Vignoles, Chardonnel and Vidal Blanc are considered “French Hybrids,” which is created by crossing French grapes, such as Chardonnay typically grown in California and France, with native American vines. The other grape found in Illinois is called Norton, which is a native American vine that produces red wine. These grapes are able to withstand the cold winters that define the Midwest, while producing high quality wine.
Today, the Illinois wine industry creates an economic impact of $250 million annually, and is among the top 12 wine-producing states. Illinois has six wine trails in the various regions of the state. The northern and central regions of the state include the Northern Illinois Wine Trail and the Illinois River Wine Trail. Located within just two hours of the Chicago area, these two trails are surrounded by scenic landscape and quaint towns, making it a perfect escape to a wine lover’s utopia. Here is just a sampling of wineries to visit in Northern and Central Illinois:
August Hill Winery, 106 Mill Street, Utica; www.augusthillwinery.com.
Fox Valley Winery, 5600 Route 34, Oswego; www.foxvalleywinery.com.
Glunz Family Winery, 888 E. Belvidere Road, Grayslake; www.gfwc.com.
Lynfred Winery, 15 Roselle Road, Roselle; www.lynfredwinery.com.
Alto Vineyards, 4210 N. Duncan Road, Champaign; www.altovineyards.com.
Mackinaw Valley Vineyard, 33633 State Route 9, Mackinaw; www.mackinawvalleyvineyard.com.
Next month, I’ll make my way down to Southern Illinois to sip wines from the area. The winemakers there have a lot to tell through their wines, and I look forward to sharing their story.
Visit www.illinoiswine.com for a full list of Illinois wineries and to learn more about the local wine industry.
Caroline Schrader is a wine writer and wine consultant serving the Chicago area.
Follow her on Facebook and visit www.carolineschrader.com.