More wine, less whine.

Illinois was the fourth largest producer of wine grapes in the US up until Prohibition in 1919.  Johns Great-grandmother being one of those paid up card carrying tough old prohibition women. I even have her prohibition prayer cards to prove it somewhere around here. During this period many vineyards were ripped out and put into corn and beans.  My throat clenches at the thought. Sometimes a  few vines were kept for (wink) ‘juice’.  Since prohibition was lifted in 1933 the grapes have begun to slowly creep back into the state.
So Our John and I thought we would help out with the growth of local wine production.  As our patriotic duty of course.

This year will be our first vintage. Though vintage is rather a grand term grand as I only have twenty vines producing so far. This is the third summer for these vines and so we are looking at a small but (fingers crossed) decadent harvest. I have planted Vidal Blanc. A sweet grape on a tough sub zero rootstock. It does not mind the terribly cold winters we have here  and loves the dry breezy summers. This grape is perfect for those little bottles of sticky whites. Known as dessert wine in some circles. Later when I have more vines coming into production we will try our hand at an ice wine. But this season our objective is to get a nice quaffable wine into a bottle then back out again via a  wine glass!

They have been grown organically so they are not the prettiest grapes. They were infested with the Japanese beetle a while ago so the vines are looking quite bare. Our trellisses and wires are sagging in some places. Those damn barn chooks spend way too much time in there. They were terribly pruned by a novice who is learning as she goes. But there are grapes there and this is the one crop that loves it dry at this time of year. 

In Hawkes Bay in New Zealand, where I grew up, there are thousands of acres under grapes. The wine industry is huge and growing so fast. Each winery has  a fancy pancy restaurant and tasting rooms and a wine cellar for their magnificent products. We trail around the vineyards  every summer, tasting and giggling our way across Hawkes Bay. There are even wine trail bus tours (not that the locals need THOSE, in fact we make sure to avoid them). My favourite one to watch go by is a wine trail on horseback.  The tourists get a guide and a horse and wander through the lazy Hawke’s Bay summer grapevines  tasting as they go. They (the fun police)  tried to make it illegal to ride a horse whilst drinking wine but the trails actually go through the vineyards so it is all good. Only very gentle, very slow,  very patient, very sober horses need apply for this position! It is advertised as a good way to avoid drunk driving. ( My little brother was once charged with being ‘drunk and in charge of a bicycle with a pot on his head’ – he said he could not find his helmet and it is against the law to ride a bike without a helmet in NZ.  Obviously a sensible chappie. He had not been on a wine trail though.)

For table grapes I have grown the Concord.  I know I should be making jelly but they are so tasty I cannot stop myself eating them off the vine. I am the bad bird pecking at the grapes.

So we are watching the Vidal, they will be netted this week to keep the chickens and starlings out and then we will wait for the optimum day and BEGIN!

Stay tuned.


43 Comments on “More wine, less whine.

  1. I hope your netting is more successful (or your birds less enterprising) than our former neighbors’, in whose garden we once observed a bird chivalrously holding up a corner of the netting in its beak while the other birds strolled under that awning to feast on the “protected” strawberries!

  2. I love how patriotic you are! Just imagine if everybody started expressing their patriotism through wine production – our world would be happy and care free.

  3. Where, roughly, in Illinois are you? I have family in Marshall County, which is in the central, east part of the state, about 45 minutes or so west of Terre Haute, Indiana. I don’t remember any grape vines there, but we certainly see lots of corn fields when we go visit! We took a backroads route one time, and my daughter, then 8 announced, “We are in the middle of vegetables!


    • We are about two hours south of chicago, and there are no vineyards very close that is for sure.. we are being pioneers out here in beer drinking land! I loved your daughter saying “we are in the middle of vegetables”.. c

  4. the sunlight through those concords looks spledid! I do hope we will get a little lesson in home wine making soon. Often I’ve wanted to try my hand at it.

    I like your fun police, and the brother story.

    • Our John is my winemaker, so when we begin I will put up the steps, there are weeks in between each step so it will take some time.. pity i cannot post a taste as well!

  5. Ooh – great post and great photos. Loved the stories about the “juice” and your brother with the pot on his head. My dad is an Italian living in London and every year since I can rememebr they have imported balck grapes from Italy (along with thousands of other Italian families in the UK) and made wine at home in the cellar, in the garage. Several hundred litres per year (just enough to get them through to the next year!) with friends and neighbours joining in to make their own too over the years. It was rough, but it was natural and organic and boy did we have some fun drinking it. This year my father (who will be 76 next month) announced that he would not be making it anymore. Needless to say, a few weeks ago he placed an order with the Italian grape suppliers. “It just didn´t feel right, not making he said”…I wish you and John as many happy years of wine making and drinking.

    • That is a great story.. good for your dad.. We will have fun drinking ours too (touch wood) .. probably be a bit ‘rough’ .. who knows what we will get. . but we always have fun trying.. I will keep you posted.. c

    • oh, I think you and katherine would have found ways around it.. maybe you could have grown some grapes for ‘juice’ too! c

  6. ma, i still remember the time us kids got in so much trouble for trying to make wine from the next-door neighbours grapes in your plunger coffee pot and smashing it!!! i don’t know what was worse.. the fact that a bunch of 7-12 year olds were trying to make wine or that you couldn’t make coffee the next morning!!!

    • Oh the Beautiful Daughter! .. Excellent….I do remember that too .. naturally I was more upset about the ruination of yet another coffee plunger.. I am assuming you were making the wine for ME tho.. weren’t you darling.. mm? sweetie???

  7. This, too, reminds me of Grandpa, his friends, and their yearly gathering to make wine. I’m sure you’ll be very bit as successful. In fact, with that in mind, I’d like to put in an order for a case of cabernet, a half-case of pinot grigio, and throw in a couple bottles of moscato. Now, I know you’re just starting out and this will take some time. Delivery next Spring will be just fine.

    • Oh dahrling.. not a problem.. you just watch out for Daisy and I and the wagon.. doing the deliveries! (laughing out loud) .. actually just quietly and i think that your grandpa would agree, we are going to be doing the crushing.. (ssh) the old fashioned way… Tho after whining about no rain for weeks, I am now terrified that it will rain and I don’t want water in my wine! c

  8. I enjoy this blog so much and I’m glad I get a chance to visit this blog. And I had no idea Illinois was the fourth largest producer of wine grapes… WOW. I love to learn something new. Amazing post.

    • yes they were, until the prohibition ladies made them tear all the vines out.. amazing really. some of the first vines were planted in the 1700’s and we are off to look at this town this weekend , as it still has vineyards there. I will let you know. c

  9. C, you and Your John have your hands full with all that you have on the go – true inspirations, the both of you!
    As always, a beautifully photographed post – can’t wait to hear when your optimum day is so that you can begin your wine making. 😀
    Have a happy day.
    🙂 Mandy

  10. GLORY be to God for dappled things—
    For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
    Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;
    Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
    Praise him.
    -Gerard Manley Hopkins

    Sorry. Just had to quote my favorite poem in response to the wonderful pictures of these gloriously “fickle, freckled” grapes. Far more interesting than perfectly unspotted ones, and the light is lovely in these shots.

    Speaking of Prohibition, Missouri, perhaps even more so, suffered from the uprooting of grape vines. I think such travesties will be documented in Ken Burns upcoming documentary Prohibition:

    • Neil you are a star, a comment angel.. This poem.. I am gobsmacked.. this is a gorgeous poem.. thank you so much and i will watch out for that Doco.. thank you again… c

  11. How exciting to be making wine for the first time. The grapes look lovely and better for being organic, I’m sure. I’m so glad to have found your blog through your comment on mine – I’ll be back to read some more soon!

    • Thank you olives, we are excited about the wine as well.. and we will be even more excited when we get to drink it.. it is the waiting that is the difficult bit. c

  12. Some people use freshly crushed grapes mixed with rye flour to start their sourdough, too! Have no sourdough fear, madam. You keep bees have a cow, and make wine. Sourdough aint’ nothin’ but a thang….

    • Well the starter just came in the mail so now i shall begin activation, sounds like i am sending a rocket into space!!, though that grapes and rye flour thing.. mm..

    • The vidal is fruity and sweet even a bit raisiny, I call it a “sticky”. The bottles will be smaller that the usual wine bottle. I have a bottle of Muscadel in the basement actually so I whip that cork out and have a taste!
      And we will see. c

  13. “They were terribly pruned…” We’re planing to start some vines this coming spring, but I’ve yet to do any research on the subject (typically). So…maybe you could suggest a website (or book) that you’ve found especially good for learning the basics? Like pruning, for example… 😉

    • The thing to remember with grapes is that the fruit grows on first year wood. I learnt by watching other growers do it, and every time i see a vineyard i snoop about. This year I will train my leaders then prune everything growing from those leaders back to two buds. This is my rule of thumb. I will be doing this soon, when it is just a little bit colder, maybe I shall show the process. Remember you are going to wait three years for fruit so get them in the ground and start to train that leader straight up in the first year. Lovely to see you wandering about in my world.. c

  14. Aw, reminds me of good times on the Ohio islands of lake Erie – all vineyards and sweet, sweet wine. My hubby is a wine snob and disparages my poor taste in sugary wine, but I know he’d love one of those tours! Maybe not on horseback, as I’ve yet to convince him to get up on one.

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