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Drink Mon Jul 22 2013
I admit I was skeptical when I joined a wine tour this past spring that took us to Acquaviva Winery and Fox Valley Winery, only 50 miles west of Chicago. I was excited to spend an afternoon tasting wine, but leery too that these Illinois wines would be like overly sweet, boozy grape juice.
Happily, nothing tasted like juice. There were whites, reds, and pinks, ranging from bone dry to sweet. Though I preferred some over others (crisp, high-acid whites are always a favorite) I was curious enough with local wine to attend Uncork Illinois this past June. The Oak Park-based wine festival showcased vendors across the state, including one of the most unique ones, Illinois Sparkling Co., which makes all sparkling wines, all in the labor-intensive champagne method, and all made with grapes grown exclusively in Illinois.
I asked ISC winemaker Mark Wenzel a few questions about winemaking in Illinois, including what the biggest challenge was. It wasn't growing grapes here, like I had thought. Rather he hit on my own initial skepticism of local wine. It's "fighting the battle of where wine 'should' come from." Of his sparklers, he said that "most [customer] reactions are 'these are ACTUALLY really good!" or "I'm surprised that I ACTUALLY really love these....seriously, I could retire if I had a dollar for every time I've heard 'actually'."
On the flipside, he noted there's a lot of potential in Illinois for winemaking because the "industry is so young and not limited to what everyone else is doing."
Sure, some wines I first tasted on the wine tour, and others at Uncork Illinois weren't all great, but some were wonderful. They weren't like Burgundy or Champagne exactly, but we also aren't in Burgundy or Champagne either. As Wenzel pointed out, "great wine can end up in your glass from almost anywhere." Still, it can be a struggle to shake expectations of what a wine should or shouldn't be, but if you're an adventurous drinker, there's loads of options right here in Illinois.
Interested in local wine? Mark your calendars for Vintage Illinois in Utica (September 21-22), which will showcase wines from all over the state.