An economic update finds the number of wineries continues to grow in Illinois but production is down. There are 91 wineries in the state compared to 68 in 2005, based on an update compiled last fall by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. Annual production fell from 500,000 gallons to 367,000 in the same period. But gallons produced is only one measure, according to the industry report, which also points out that annual tourism spending of nearly $40 million was up nearly 28 percent from 2005.
An economic update finds the number of wineries continues to grow in Illinois but production is down.
There are 91 wineries in the state compared to 68 in 2005, based on an update compiled last fall by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. Annual production fell from 500,000 gallons to 367,000 in the same period.
But gallons produced is only one measure, according to the industry report, which also points out that annual tourism spending of nearly $40 million was up nearly 28 percent from 2005.
“Initially, there was a lot of overproduction, so there was kind of a correction to meet the demand,” said association marketing director Megan Presnall.
A lower-yield crop in 2007 also contributed to the decline, according to the study.
Still breaking in
The Illinois wine industry remains relatively young and small compared to major wine-producing states. Annual production of 493.7 million gallons in California still accounts for 86 percent of the U.S. market. New York is a distant second at 36.5 million gallons a year.
“They are drawing more interest,” John Roman, owner of It’s All About Wine in Springfield, said of Illinois wines.
The state association likes to point out some varieties are competing nationally with California and European wines. The federal government has officially designated the Shawnee Hills region in southern Illinois as an “American vitacultural area” for its distinctive winemaking properties.
In the industry’s early days, manager Cathy Sagle at the Corkscrew Wine Emporium in Springfield said, Illinois wine picked up a reputation as a “sweet” blend that did not appeal to aficionados with a taste for “dry” wines.
“It’s a trickle-down effect. They are doing really well in figuring out what grapes grow well in our climate,” said Sagle.
Food Mart co-owner Tony Pirrera includes Illinois wines in his inventory, though European brands still dominate. He said both domestic and foreign producers have found a new price point as a result of the economy and an unexpectedly large grape harvest in California last year.
He said “good” wines that sold for $20 and up a year ago now may be in the $15 to $20 range.
“There’s just a lot of wine out there,” said Pirrera.
Trails and Twitters
A half-dozen wine trails, combining wineries, historic sites and bed-and-breakfasts, now cross Illinois.
“The economic impact is growing, and obviously the number of wineries is growing. Overall the news is good,” said Robert Hall, incoming president of the Illinois association.
Hall, who owns the Arbor Hill Vineyard near Galena, said the recession appears to have had little effect on Illinois wineries and might even have helped with budget-conscious travelers.
“The wineries are close to home, so they’re easier to go and visit,” said Hall. “People know when times are tight, they still like a glass of wine.”
The wine-industry study found that most Illinois wineries are small, family-owned businesses that sell directly to customers, including through wine-tasting rooms. Presnall said wineries also are adjusting to a new generation of wine drinkers who grew up with Twitter, Facebook and the Internet.
“It’s generational marketing. The ‘baby boomers’ and the ‘millennials’ receive messages in very different ways,” said Presnall.
Wineries also have branched out into live entertainment, tours, private parties and theater performances.
Industry representatives are preparing for a three-day annual conference, starting Thursday at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, that is expected to draw 350 participants.
But wine, wine-making and grape-growing are not the only issues to be discussed, said Hall.
The industry remains highly critical of legislation enacted in 2008 that restricted direct consumer purchases from out-of-state wineries and that put new limits on the amount of wine vineyards can self-distribute.
Hall said the changes gave commercial distributors more control of sales at the expense of local wineries.
As of July 2009, the excise tax increased from 73 cents to $1.39 a gallon for wine with less than 20 percent alcohol.
Hall said there also have been discussions with the Illinois Farm Bureau and University of Illinois Extension on the threat to vineyards from herbicides used by farmers and road crews to kill broadleaf plants.
Grapes vines are a broadleaf plant.
“The problem is, it can be calm and nice when they spray. But it’ll vaporize and drift like a fog as far as five miles. Just about every vineyard has experienced it at some point,” said Hall.
He said one possible solution is a database that would allow applicators to pinpoint vineyards using global-positioning satellite technology.
Tim Landis can be reached at (217) 788-1536 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Illinois wine industry 2005-2009
Number of wineries: 68; 91
Annual gallons produced: 500,000; 357,000
Full-time equivalent jobs: 2,300; 2,064
Retail value: $21 million; $27.1 million
Annual visitors: 155,000; 200,000
Tourism spending: $31 million; $39.6 million
Source: MKF Research and the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association