On the Road with Illinois Rosé

5.15 – Twelve Oaks Vineyard 2017 Chambourcin Rosé

with Karen Binder

“You’ve got a big project coming up!”


I met Karen Binder at a southern Illinois tasting room after our work days were over.  Karen’s been a long-time friend of the Illinois wine industry, and a pretty big help to me personally and professionally over the years, so I thought it would be a great idea to have her be my first guest of the On the Road series of wine experiences.  She’s also a seasoned journalist, working for many years with the Southern Illinoisan newspaper and a regular contributor to Illinois Agrinews online, so my hope was she could set me straight if I was going off the rails.

The “project” she was referring to is the Illinois Rosé Project, an effort to craft a signature wine style for all of Illinois wine producers.  More information about this project can be found in older posts on this blog, as well as the illinoiswine website.  In short, the industry implemented quality and stylistic goals, and wines wanting to be part of the project must pass a blind peer evaluation to qualify.

For 2018, wines making the cut are also being featured as the official wines of the Illinois Bicentennial!  When you’re out and about, look for this seal on the bottles:


In addition to the project, I thought I could do something extra to help move the needle – I’m always on the road, and know lots of great people, so I thought I could share some of these wines with them and write about the experience.  I have friends in agriculture, wine retail and distribution, chefs and sommeliers, writers, and even entertainers who have all expressed interest in sharing in this wine experience with me, so I hope it’s a fun time for everyone!

The wine I picked forweb-logo-twelve-oaks1 Karen was Twelve Oaks Vineyard 2017 Chambourcin Rosé.  Twelve Oaks is located just south of Carlyle, IL off of Rt. 127.  I went with this one because I wanted Karen, a person very familiar with the Shawnee Hills AVA, to experience a wine she hasn’t had before.  This winery opened in 2015, producing around 500 gal (2500 bottles) in the first year.  Doug and Jodi Palm are the owners, wine makers, grape growers, tasting room staff, and business directors for the winery, so they have their hands pretty full most of the time, but are never too busy to take a minute to talk about the wine they make and the industry they love.  They make deep connections with their customers, and it’s paying off – they’re in the process of building a new wine making facility to help handle the rapid increase in demand!  Doug expects the new facility to be up and operational in time for the 2018 harvest.

In addition to being an official selection for the 2018 Bicentennial Rosé Project, this wine recently took a Gold Medal at the International Experience Rosé Wine Competition.

“I can smell it already!” exclaimed Karen, as I poured the first sample into the glass.  The bright fruit and floral aromas filled the air before we even swirled, sniffed, etc. twleveoaksbottle1.jpg Instead of asking for a list of specific descriptors, I asked Karen to play a word association game as we tasted.  Here’s what we came up with:

  • Bright
  • Fruity
  • Floral
  • Elegant
  • Pretty
  • Perfect for the Patio

On the last one, I asked for a little clarification.  Karen started talking about southern Illinois.  “Down here we can spend about nine months of the year on the porch, enjoying the natural beauty around us.  This wine would work well with all of it, Spring, Summer, and Fall.”  During our discussion we kept going back through the history of the southern Illinois wine industry, and I think this wine was responsible for some of these memories.  First, it’s made from the ‘Chambourcin’ grape, which shines in southern Illinois vineyards, and is made into several different wine styles, from fortified dessert wine to dry reds.  Since the project began two years ago, it is now experiencing tremendous success when made as rosé.  Second, the people and the product are inseparable to Karen and me.  “Some regions have a cultural personality, no matter who the individual characters are, and that cultural personality persists even if the individuals change over time,” said Karen.

That reminded me a lot of how we define terroir in wine.  Doug Palm, while really just beginning as a winemaker, is no stranger to the Illinois wine industry.  He’s been a proud grape grower in the region for over twelve years.  The grapes he grows are very much a product of southern Illinois culture, and the accolades this wine has received are a strong sign that great things lie ahead for Twelve Oaks Vineyard and Winery!  As we were finishing up the session, I asked Karen if there were any surprises.

“Absolutely!  This wine is so aromatic and elegant that I was shocked at how dry it is.  It’s got great acidity and even a little tannin on the palate.  It reminds me of when I go out to wineries in the summer – there’s a bunch of guys drinking red wine under the hot summer sun.  Once I walked past a group of red wine drinkers with a pink wine in an ice bucket, and got a curious look.  I shared the dry rosé wine with them, and they loved it!  I think dry rosé can have structure that shouldn’t be discounted by red wine people.”

I agree!  What I loved about this wine is that it combines the best of both worlds – it’s really fun and serious at the same time.  We could have talked forever about food combinations too, but eventually landed on the Marcoot Creamery, specifically the Cave-Aged Heritage cheese.

twelveoaks-cork.jpgI’d like to thank both Karen Binder and Twelve Oaks for their help with this article.  We had a lot of fun, and I hope you get out on the road this season and visit an Illinois winery!  For more information on Twelve Oaks Vineyard:


See you on the road next time!

Project Sponsors:

illinois-wine-logo                        ilda logo



Illinois Wine Strikes Gold in California!

xr 2018 competition

I’m thrilled to announce that Illinois wineries made a very strong showing at the 2018 Experience Rosé Wine Competition, taking home 12 total medals!  This California-based international competition included over 300 wines from around the world being judged alongside those from Illinois.

For the complete competition results, follow this link:



Here are the Illinois wines and wineries to celebrate for achievement in the competition:

Dry Still Rosé

Gold Medals:

  • Blue Sky Vineyards – Rosé
  • Galena Cellars – Chambourcin Rosé
  • StarView Vineyards – Dry Rosé
  • Twelve Oaks – Chambourcin Rosé

Silver Medals:

  • Alto Vineyards – 2017 Rosato
  • Kite Hill Vineyards – Rosé
  • Spirit Knob – Days End Rosé

Bronze Medals:

  • August Hill – Chambourcin Rosé
  • Galena Cellars – Vineyard Rosé
  • Galena Cellars – Frontenac gris Rosé

Sparkling Rosé

Gold Medal:

  • Illinois Sparkling Co. – Brut Rosé de Saignée

Bronze Medal:

  • Illinois Sparkling Co. – Brut Ombré Rosé

If you’ve been paying close attention, you may recognize that many of the wines listed above also have been designated as official wines of the Illinois Bicentennial!  These wines have been evaluated by industry members, and are quality-assured for your enjoyment!

For more information on the Illinois Bicentennial and Illinois wine:


It’s also a good jumping off point to finding the closest Illinois winery!  These rosé wines are truly amazing, so I’d encourage you to go get your hands on them before they’re gone!




Hooray for Rosé!

Hello everyone!  With harvest just around the corner, I wanted to put some thoughts of mine and others out to everyone planning on making rosé this year.

Rosé Project Update

There were twelve rosé wines entered into the project this year, which were first entered into the wine competition.  The main cultivar we saw used for Illinois-grown rosé was Chambourcin, but Corot noir, Marechal Foch, Petite Pearl, and Frontenac gris were also used to make rosé wines for the project.  At this time, we have not narrowed the range of cultivars, and have also allowed for gray-fruited grapes (gris) to be included in the project.  After the competition, a group of Illinois winemakers, along with other wine industry professionals, were invited to participate in peer-evaluation of the rosé wines submitted to the project.  The goals were to select the wines most appropriate for the project while also looking for commonalities among the chosen group.

We ended up with seven of the twelve entries being approved for the project.  Common descriptors for these wines included: attractive, strawberry, fruity, floral, lively, and crisp.  Among the final seven, there was still quite a bit of diversity among the group; the color range was wide (but not browning), the sugar to acid ratios were highly variable, and alcohol varied as much as 2% abv.

Here are the chemistry ranges of the finished wines:

pH: 3.03 – 3.33, Titratable acidity: 6.9 – 11.1 g/L, Residual Sugar: 0.0 – 20.0 g/L, Alcohol: 11.0 – 13.1%

As we head into harvest 2017, we’re going to continue to use the existing set of criteria as guides for the project (here is the most recent update on the parameters).  At this point, the single most important criteria for acceptance into the project will be inherent quality.  It was discussed at length by the group that it is critical we hold the wines in this project to a very high standard of quality, and for the good of the industry it is essential that we commit to this high standard moving forward.

Quality Control

The biggest issues I’ve seen are oxidation/short shelf life and sulfur issues.  This year, Luke Holcombe of Scott Labs gave a great presentation on oxygen management at the 2017 IGGVA Annual Conference.  For your review:

Oxygen Management and Packaging Considerations.pptx

Also, I have a handout on preventing and treating sulfur issues in wine:

Sulfur Faults 2017

Processing Tips

Another speaker at our conference, David Breeden of Sheldrake Vineyards in the Finger Lakes, agreed to share his thoughts on high-quality rosé production.

Tips for a Fabulous Dry Rosé:

  1. Harvest appropriately! You’re not making a red wine which might benefit from riper tannins and higher alcohol.  Think in terms of fruit flavor ripeness, and alcohols around 12%.
  2. Cold-soak, Saignée, or blending: decide which method will get you the rosé you want. Cold soak and Saignée are more traditional, but saignée can lead to rosé which has more red-wine-like character than you might want.
  3. Pick a yeast which will help emphasize fruitiness, but still ferment to the dryness you want: Vin13, Rhone 4600, GRE, Actiflor Rosé are all likely choices.
  4. Ferment to an appropriate balance point—all of alcohol, acid, and residual sugar matter (you’re making a dry rosé, not blush)!
  5. Worry about color. There’s a HUGE range of colors acceptable in the market for dry rosé, but it has to be bright and attractive…work hard in the winery to keep it that way.
  6. Think about CO2 levels—a little more CO2 than you’d leave in other table wines can help make your rosé refreshing.
  7. Bottle and enjoy!!

Also, I asked some Illinois winemakers to share their thoughts on their rosé production:

Karen Hand, Blue Sky Vineyards (2017 Governor’s Cup Winner for Blush/Rosé)

“We want our Rosé to be fruit forward and complex.  What we do for our rose is pick Chambourcin early  based  mostly on the TA.  We also make several cuts on the press and separate the juice and ferment separately.  We do this with at least two different pickings.  This allows us to experiment with blends to make the best Rosé we can.  We also believe this adds to the complexity of the wine.  The wine that we don’t use gets blended into a sweeter blend of wine.  Nothing is wasted.  It just takes more time and we spend a lot of time evaluating the blends as well as getting feedback from lots of people before we make our final blend.”

Mark Wenzel, August Hill Winery/Illinois Sparkling Co.

“We are constantly consulting with those in the industry with more experience than us, so the 2017 production attempt is going to be different than what we did in 2016.  We utilize the expertise at Enartis Laboratories for guidance in our rosé production.  The following is a recent Technical Newsletter they have written on Rosé winemaking:  http://www.enartis.com/upload/images/07_2017/170720010823.pdf

Our style of the LaBelle rosé is to be clean, light, refreshing, and delicate.  That is what we like about the rosés from Provence which has inspired us to do this.  We have used clean and even-ripened Chambourcin grapes grown by Kaleb Wilson at Cunningham Vineyards.  2016 grapes were picked @20 brix on 8/30/16.  Sulfite is added to the grapes at the vineyard, chilled down in a cooler, and a refrigerated truck delivers them overnight to our winery.  We get this light color from Chambourcin by doing a very light whole berry pressing (no crushing).  We remove the first 5% off the press, and then start collecting the juice until about 65%.  Each pressing takes about 3 hours.  This yields the very light color and flavors.  Dealing with light color, Enartis had told us that a lighter rosé is going to be at much greater risk of oxidation than a darker rosé.  We utilized many of the techniques listed in the guidelines from the newsletter.  We constantly monitored sulfite levels.  We bottled the wine 2/2/17 utilizing a mobile bottler.  In 2017 we are potentially looking at harvesting earlier.  We are going to modify our press cycle.  Our yeast and early additions have not yet been determined as we are in discussion with Enartis on this.  We feel the 2016 wine is aging well at this time, but we feel in 2017 we would like to have a little more fruit.  This may be done in pressing and/or our fining methods.

Our style of  the White Chambourcin has always been to be semi-dry and fruit forward.  The White Chambourcin is whole berry pressed and it is from the 1st 5% of the pressing and the final 35% of the juice/pressing.  Oxidation is always a concern for us so we frequently monitor our sulfite levels.  This wine undergoes a steady cool fermentation, and once it is done we clean it up and make sure it is stable before bottling.  This wine was bottled 11/3/16.  We feel the 2016 is aging well at this time, but we would like to see the wine a little lighter in color.  This will be done by changing our press fractions.  We will also be incorporating more products from Enartis based off their guidelines.”

2018 Illinois Bicentennial


Lastly, I wanted to mention again that 2018 will mark the Bicentennial of the state of Illinois.  To commemorate this event, Illinois will be declaring Illinois rosé to be the official wine of the Bicentennial.  This dovetails nicely with our project.

In order to help producers make the best quality rosé wines for 2018, it will be important to make rosé the focus of our regional roundtable meetings.  My goal is to schedule two of these workshops – one for Nov/Dec, and another for Jan/Feb.  Additionally, if you wish to participate in the 2018 program, it will behoove you to plan your production schedule accordingly – you’ll want to have wines finished and bottled in early 2018, certainly by Spring.  More information on the bicentennial program, and the promotion of Bicentennial Rosé, will be provided by the IGGVA soon.



Illinois Rosé Project Update

This project was first announced just ahead of harvest 2016.  The intent of the announcement was just to give producers an opportunity to practice and/or focus a little more attention on their rosé wine heading into 2017.  I listed, as an example, some potential parameters we may look at as a means of unifying the wine style, and strengthening the brand.


However, the exact parameters are yet to be determined.  As we head into next year, we’re going to work on defining the criteria for acceptance or rejection in the program, and establish a working range for each.  We’ll need to make many decisions over the next year, including:

  • Color range and intensity
  • Cultivars (major, minor, etc)
  • Acid:sugar balance
  • Desirable aromatics
  • Fault tolerance
  • Packaging
  • Fruit source
  • Label considerations
  • Evaluation timing and methodology
  • Marketing goals/approach

Right now, I’ve collected Rosé wines from around the Midwest, California, France, South America, and just about any others I can get my hands on.  We’re going to use these wines in a couple of ways:

1st: Chemical analysis of Rosé wines from around the world

Analyses include: color hue and intensity, RS, pH, TA, volatile acidity, alcohol

2nd: Sensory analysis of same wines, and determination of desirable ranges for traits

Analyses include: Color, aromas, sugar:acid balance, faults

The 2nd part is where you all come in.  We’re going to create an opportunity for group blind evaluations of several rosé wines.  In January and early February, I will hold 3 sensory training/evaluation workshops.  These workshops will be open to grape and wine producers, retailers, distributors, food professionals, and other advocates for our industry.  We’ll have a lot of work to do, and they’ll run at least 4 hrs, probably scheduled from 1-5.  Because of this, and because our budget is limited, there will be a cost to participants to cover venue and food costs associated with the event.

Here is a rough timeline for the next year or so:

Month Activity
November 2016 Roundtable meetings, collection of wines for analysis – done!
December 2016 Chemical analysis of rosé wine
January 2017 Conduct sensory training/rosé assessment workshops (3)
February 2017 Present results of chemical and sensory analysis at annual conference
March 2017 Grant writing/submission for promotion of project
April 2017 Create competition category for Illinois Rosé, include parameters established by 1st sensory workshop.
May 2017 Promote and receive entries into the 2017 IL State Fair Wine Competition
June 2017 Conduct wine competition, assess results
July 2017 2nd Rosé Sensory Workshop – tweak parameters and discuss viticultural and enological  implications, launch of program to industry
August 2017 Harvest
September 2017 Harvest
October 2017 Harvest, receive announcement for grant awards
February 2018 Launch marketing campaign to industry at annual conference
March 2018 Launch marketing campaign to public, begin assessing wines from 2017 harvest?


Dates and Locations:

Southern Illinois: January 31 Blue Sky Vineyard, Makanda, 1-5

Central Illinois: January 24, The Trutter Center, Lincoln Land Community College, 1-5

Northern Illinois: Feb 6, Blackbird Restaurant, Chicago, 12-3

You must RSVP to attend this event.  Send RSVPs to brad@illinoiswine.com.  The suggested donation will be $10/person (at the door). 

That’s all for now.  Best to all of you this holiday season!