Crafting Wine in the Midwest, Part 1: Reasons to Make Your Own Wine

Reader Contribution by Julie E. Smith
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“What though youth gave love and roses,/ Age still leaves us friends and wine.” — Thomas Moore, 1815

In the Midwest we are proud to be hailed as “the bread basket” of the nation and produce a multitude of crops. However, grapes and wine production are not generally synonymous with this area. Nevertheless, several vineyards and wineries do thrive in the area. Some grow their own grapes and many import the grapes from an environment that is more conducive for producing the best grapes for wine production. If you enjoy wine, pursuing the hobby of making wine yourself reaps many rewards and also expands your appreciation for what goes into the making of a good wine. As with many hobbies, it is not just the end result, but the process itself, that provides an intriguing experience.

Another distinct advantage of producing your own wine, is having complete control over what goes into your wine. Some commercial wine producers add other ingredients to their wine, besides grapes and sugar, to enhance flavor and sometimes increase shelf life. Sulfites are an added ingredient that some people are allergic to and can easily be omitted from your own wine. Sulfites act as a preservative, so when omitted from the wine, an opened bottle needs to be consumed within a few days.

Illinois Winemakers

Dave and Joan, a couple who reside in Mundelein, Illinois, have produced several vintage years of wine. They first became interested in the process through some mutual friends and now pursue the hobby. They explain that even though we are not in the heart of wine country, there are many wine enthusiasts in the Chicago area and also several sources to buy both equipment and fresh grapes. Generally, the grapes shipped into this area are from the Lodi region of California. Dave and Joan, generally produce a blend of Merlot and Muscat. The Muscat grape is very juicy, easier to work with and more predictable in producing a good wine. The white wines are in many ways harder to produce for the beginning vintner. They are more fragile and harder to work with. Grapes for the Red wines are more “predictable” and easier to work with.

Before pursuing the hobby of wine making, it’s good to have an overview of the craft itself and also determine if your area of the country is an area where grapes, and sometimes other types of fruit, can be successfully grown and utilized for wine production. Or, in the case you cannot grow the fruit yourself, where you can procure grapes. It is interesting to note that some vintners do a combination of both. While touring a vineyard in Illinois, near Starved Rock State Park, I learned that a portion of their grapes are purchased from another vineyard and only some produced locally. So depending on your needs, you can do a little of both.

The Midwest Wine Press

All 11 states in the Midwest have at least some degree of wine production, and the figures don’t even include home wine production by hobbyists. According to the Midwest Wine Press, Michigan is the leading Midwestern state for wine production with 2,650 acres dedicated to grape growing. The Midwest Wine Press is “the first business publication dedicated entirely to the art and business of winemaking in the Midwestern United States.” They can be found at the Midwest Wine Press website.

In my next story, I will get into the nitty-gritty of the art of wine production and the steps that it takes to produce a “drinkable”, enjoyable product. Cheers!

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