Illinois winemakers have been successful at crossbreeding classic French grapes with varietals that are native to American soils
Move over, California. Illinois is making a name for itself when it comes to wine.
Does this mean you are going to find an amazing bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon from the growing number of vineyards and wineries populating the Galena area? No.
The types of grapes that grow best in the fog-draped hills of California’s Napa Valley are completely different than what grows and thrives in what’s known as the Upper Mississippi River Valley American Viticultural Area. The difference comes down to one word, and it’s French.
Derived from the Latin word, terra, meaning earth or land, the French use the term terroir to express a wine’s sense of place. You’ll get 10 different answers from 10 different oenophiles (connoisseurs of wine) if you ask them what terroir means. They may get into the specifics and tell you it’s a combination of the macroclimate, mesoclimate, and microclimate.
Just smile and nod. What they’re talking about is really nothing more than the impact that the geography and the weather has on grapes as they grow. Soil, rain, temperature, altitude, and a multitude of other conditions dictate both whether a grape will grow in a certain area, as well as how it will taste. Here’s a quick example.
We’ll stick with that amazing bottle of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Out in the middle of Texas, just outside of the state capital of Austin, there’s an area known as the Texas Hill Country. It’s got quite a reputation of its own for producing award-winning wines. As you explore the area, you might even mistake it for the Napa Valley area.
But, there’s one huge difference – and it makes the cabernet sauvignon grapes grown in the Texas Hill Country produce a wine with markedly different characteristics. This is because of terroir. It turns out that this particular grape gets a certain percentage of its moisture needs through the leaves. In contrast, the fog rolling in from the Pacific Ocean provides all the atmospheric moisture that California grapes need.
So, while the temperature and even the soil might be very much alike in Napa Valley and middle-Texas, terroir causes the varietal of grape used to make cabernet sauvignon to produce two different kinds of wine.
According to the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, there are more than 100 Illinois winemakers, and they’re growing grapes on more than 1,100 acres of agricultural land. One misnomer about winemaking in Illinois is that it’s just too cold.
There are some varietals that actually capitalize on the Illinois terroir and the temperatures. Illinois winemakers have been successful at crossbreeding classic French grapes with varietals that are native to American soils – and these grape vines do well in the colder weather.
Here are the top six wine grapes you’ll find being grown throughout Illinois:
- Chambourcin: It’s far from a common name, but this dark and dry grape is likely a French-American hybrid use to make red table wines.
- Seyval: This grape makes a white wine with hints of melon and citrus, along with notes of hay. It’s a hybrid of the Seibel and Rayon d’Or grapes, which hail from England.
- Vingoles: This might throw you because it’s thought that the varietal is a hybrid from the Pinot Noir grape, but the Vignoles grapes grown in Illinois are used to create sweet white dessert wines.
- Chardonel: You might guess this one. It’s a hybrid of the Seyval and French Chardonnay grapes, and Illinois winemakers use it to create dry white wines.
- Vidal Blanc: This white grape is a hybrid of Trebbiano Toscano and Rayon d’Or.
- Norton: It’s most commonly used to make white wines, and this native American varietal is found throughout the area.
Galena’s award-winning connection
Last year’s Illinois State Fair Wine Competition saw Galena Cellars take best in the show with their Viognier. The winemaker also snagged the Governor’s Cup for Illinois-Grown Fruit with their Secret Garden La Crescent white table wine.
Plan to visit Galena’s winemakers and sample great wine from throughout Illinois when you book your stay with us. Learn more about our luxurious log house and cabin here.