By STEVE BINDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Much like the types of grapes grown in the state, Illinois winemakers can be considered a hearty bunch. Based on a new census released last week by the USDA’s Springfield office of the National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS), the number of Illinois wineries increased from 77 in 2006 to 105 last year, a boost of 36 percent.
Wine production also went up significantly, said NASS’ David Ward, the lead investigator for the census. Winemakers produced 651,800 gallons of wine last year compared to 564,270 in 2006, a 16 percent jump during a period that included a national recession.
“We figured it might be flat or down a little, so there was some surprise given the state of the economy,” Ward said.
NASS conducted the census at the request of the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Assoc. In 25 years, the number of wineries operating in the state has grown by 775 percent, from 12 to 105.
Along with the number of wineries and wine production, the total number of vineyards operating in Illinois has increased as well – from 235 in 2006 to a total of 312 last year, according to the census. Within last year’s total, there were 175 commercial vineyards that grew grapes on at least 1 acre.
“I think it does speak to the quality of the wine being made in our state. We’re certainly not California, because we have different growing conditions than they do, but we produce quality wines from some excellent varietal grapes that we can grow here,” said Paul Renzaglia, owner of Alto Vineyards & Winery, one of the oldest in Illinois.
A majority of the state’s wineries and vineyards are located in south-central or southern Illinois; a total of 66 of the 105 wineries and 116 of the 175 commercial vineyards are located in those regions.
According to the census, the current capacity for winemaking is close to 1 million gallons a year. Based on all the wineries surveyed, that capacity is expected to increase to 2 million gallons within five years and to 3 million within 10 years.
While there are more than 100 varieties of grapes grown in the state, the top seven make up 54 percent of all grown largely because they are hearty varieties that can stand up well to the Midwest’s cold winters, according to the census.
The top-producing grapes in the state are Chambourcin, Norton, Frontenac, Foch, Chardonel, Vignoles and Traminette. Chambourcin, Vignoles and Chardonel are French hybrids.
The full report can be found at www.nass.usda.gov/statistics_by_state/Illinois