History of Illinois Wine
The Illinois wine industry has exploded in recent years, growing from just 12 wineries in 1997 to more than 70 today. During this time, the acreage devoted to grape production has grown at a tremendous rate, and today Illinois is consistently among the top 12 wine-producing states. But while the industry’s recent growth has been phenomenal, Illinois also enjoys a rich winemaking tradition that dates back to the 1700s:
• 1778 – French settlers in La Ville de Maillet (what is now Peoria) bring the winemaking expertise of their homeland to Illinois. The village features a wine press and an underground wine vault.
• 1857 – Emile Baxter and Sons open a winery in Nauvoo, along the banks of the Mississippi River. Baxter’s Vineyards remains Illinois’ oldest operating winery, run by a fifth generation of Baxters.
• 1900 – Illinois is the fourth-largest wine producing state in the nation.
• 1920 – The Prohibition Act stops all legal winemaking. Some Illinois vineyards continue to grow table grapes, others uproot their vines to make way for corn and soybeans.
• 1979 – 1995 – Wineries and vineyards are established throughout the northern, central and southern regions of Illinois.
• 1995 – The owners of Alto Vineyards, Owl Creek Vineyards and Pomona Winery in southern Illinois meet with area tourism officials and form the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
• 2001 – Illinois boasts 27 wineries.
• 2005 – Illinois Gov. Rod R. Blagojevich designates September as “Illinois Wine Month.”
• 2006 – A region in Southern Illinois is recognized as the Shawnee Hills American Viticulture Area (AVA) by the federal government. Illinois’ first AVA designation, this area encompasses 21 wineries and 55 vineyards.
• 2009 – The Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA is established becoming the largest in the U.S. This AVA includes regions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois and represents 32 wineries and 445 vineyard acres.
Today the Illinois wine industry creates a direct economic impact of more than $253 million annually. The nearly 100 wineries that span Illinois have also brought with them a host of charming bed and breakfasts and local crafts businesses. The Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association predict continued growth in the coming years as more visitors discover the genuine culture of Illinois Wine Country.