Wine is produced in all fifty of the United States now.  International and creative varietals are made all over.  Illinois has some interesting wines that are worth trying.

The Land of Lincoln has a surprisingly long history when it comes to wine.  In 1778 French settlers in then La Ville de Maillet (more romantically known as Peoria, IL today) put their wine practices to use by building an extensive underground wine vault as well as a wine press.  They may have brought their grapes from the homeland or very possibly, cultivated and made use out of one the grapes indigenous to the Midwest.  Wine made in Illinois today is mostly made from hybrid grapes.  Let me explain: Chardonnay is a grape of the vitis vinifera species, native to France and now grown in many places around the world.  Chardonnay does not tend to thrive in the Midwest climate.  Norton is a grape varietal of the vitis aestivalis species, native to North America.  It is widely grown in Virginia, Missouri, and several others including Illinois.  Vitis vinifera & Vitis aestivalis are quite closely related but it is the vitis vinifera species that is known for producing the most quality final wine product.  Other varietals being produced in Illinois are hybrids.  Hybrid grapes are the result of two other grapes, typically of the vinifera species,  being crossed.  The resulting hybrids such as Chardonel, Traminette or Chambourcin are successfully grown in Illinois because the characteristics that they gain from their parent grapes grant them the ability to thrive in the harsh climate of Illinois.

Now, onward with the history of Illinois wine… In 1857 Baxter’s Vineyard and winery was first established and is still there today.  In the year 1900, Illinois was the fourth largest producer of wine in the States.  Prohibition slowed production quite a bit but during the latter years of the 20th century, vineyards and wineries cropped up over much of the state.  Most actual vineyard sites are located in the south where winter months and late spring frost a bit less severe that up north.  Today, Illinois has around 70 wineries and continues to grow.  Read about producers who are really moving this year here.

Some specifics: I had the recent pleasure of tasting a 2005 Norton from Piasa Winery in Grafton, IL and was delightfully surprised at its balance and strength.  It is pretty straightforward on the palate.  It is known for almost staining the wine glass due to its deep color, but is quite light in the mouth.  I recommend adding this to your list of wines to try.