Rosé Season is Coming!


If you live anywhere in the Midwest, I’m sure you’d agree that this winter is taking forever. However, the rosé wines from the 2018 vintage should be in a bottle soon, and early tastings with several Illinois producers have shown me that the 2018 vintage could very well be the best one yet!

Last fall, I had a great opportunity to pour rosé wines for the Northfielders Garden Club in Northfield IL, a suburb on Chicago’s north side (hence the name). The evening’s focus was to be Illinois rosé, and I created a lecture on backyard grape growing and a brief overview of the Illinois rosé project. Those discussions went very well, but after about an hour it was clear that the group was ready to taste some wine.


This group consisted of about 40 Gen-Xers to Baby Boomers, upper middle-class, and very enthusiastic about wine. Their level of wine experience varied from casual to obsessive, but none had a professional relationship with wine. These are people that buy wine, and love to share it with others. While discussing wines, I was impressed with their thoughtful comments and open-mindedness.

However, instead of the traditional taste and talk session, I thought it would be more fun to pour blind, meaning the participants did not know what the wines were until after they evaluate them. I provided each attendee with a hedonistic scoresheet, along with space provided for their notes. What I didn’t tell them was that I slipped a French rosé from Provence into the lineup! I really just wanted to see how we stack up compared to the industry standard. Full disclosure – I had not tasted the French wine before the session.  I just wanted a standard, moderately-priced rosé from southern France that was widely available at places regular folks would shop. I think this one was picked up at Target for $15.

Here’s the rundown:

AH La Belle

This first wine seemed more old-world to the group: lighter in color, but with crisp acid and bright flavors. I love this wine because it’s so difficult to define. It usually stands out in a typical lineup of rosé wines. This was a great wine to start out the session:

Average score: 6.16

SV Dry Rose

This wine was bigger in every way: intense color and berry flavors, very dry with good tannin on the palate, smooth lasting finish. It reminded me of rosé wines made from “big” red cultivars like Cab, but exhibited more complexity and finesse.

Average score: 5.43


The room got very quiet when it was time to discuss this one.  Again, the group was under the impression that this was an Illinois wine, and I think they were hesitant to say something unflattering.  Their silence spoke volumes.  This wine was incredibly light and delicate, and a touch reduced, especially when compared to the wines before and after it.  All things considered, I think it was just fine, but the group was more critical.  Average score: 4.90

AV Rosato

This was the sweetest of the group, but it still had bracing acidity on the palate and finish.  Very nice berry and citrus aromas and flavors. I had chose to include this because not everyone likes bone-dry wines, and it’s important to me to have something for everyone.

Average score: 5.57.

Northfield wine lineup

The Illinois rosés did very well! I wasn’t surprised, but was delighted to see them hold there own when poured next to a French rosé. While hedonistic data should never be used to prove a hierarchy of good to bad, it was nice to see us in the mix. On a sale of 1-9, 9 = extremely like and 1= extremely dislike, anything above 4.5 could be interpreted as a positive and less than 4.5 being a negative.  All the wines scored above 4.5, which was nice.  The other issue with this scenario is that less experienced wine evaluators tend to hedge to the middle, which is why all of the scores are so close.

This spring, the 2018 vintage rosé wines will be announced, as will a new brand and logo for the project.  Check back soon, just a little more winter to go!





Making Great Illinois Rosé

Historically, the processing of rosé wine was likely either accident or afterthought.  Wines would have a lighter hue because of poor color development in the skins of grapes, or producers would bleed off some juice (saignée, in French) from a regular red wine fermentation to help improve color and structural components of their reds. This juice would then be fermented and sold as rosé, which in reality was little more than a by-product of the red winemaking process.

However, in the 20th century, pink wines really began to take off.  Provence began making in earnest what we now perceive as the current standard of rosé wine.

animal house
Mateus, in a supporting role, in the film Animal House

Mateus, a Portuguese sweet, fizzy rosé became popular in America after WWII, and soon thereafter gave old-world Chianti a run for its money as a hippie candlestick. By the mid-70’s, Sutter Home launched White Zinfandel, and the world of wine has never been the same since. White Zin was pretty, approachable, and easy for the casual consumer to enjoy. I used to teach an entry-level wine appreciation course, and every year I would slip a White Zin into a blind tasting for my students. They were instructed to conduct a thorough sensory evaluation of the wine, and then finish things off with a likeability score for their own use in the future.  Over the course of 15 weeks, these early-20s novice wine enthusiasts would evaluate between 80-100 wines from all over the world. Without fail, White Zin would show up on the end-of-year collective top ten list.

sutter home white zinI’m not here to sell you on White Zin. They do a great job of that already. My point is that the producers understood what much of the wine world forgot – wine doesn’t always have to be this complicated, elitist beverage – it can be fun too! It’s a successful product because it’s an easy step into the world of wine for new consumers.

Over the last 30 years or so, the success of White Zin paved the way for a return to the classic, dry rosé style of wine most closely associated with Provence. From a production perspective, it’s hard not to see it as a industry-driven response to the soft, sweet, and powerfully-aromatic “grotesque” nature of the industry leader. Wines are now being crafted that have beautiful color, delicate aromas and flavors, and crisp acidity that work tremendously well with food. These purposeful wines are being made from virtually every traditional red grape cultivar out there, from Grenache to Cabernet Franc to even Pinot noir.

So why not give it a go with Midwest cultivars? In recent years, wineries in Illinois have been making tremendous rosé wines from grapes that thrive in the Midwest, including Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc, Marquette, Frontenac, St. Croix, and many, many others.  These grapes have great color, flavor and acid profiles that lend well to rosé, and our wines compare favorably to their traditional counterparts. I’ll discuss that more in a future post. For now, I’d like to go into a few details on how great rosé wines are made.

Great Wines are Made in the Vineyard

250px-Marechal_foch_clusterWell, they’re not completely made in the vineyard, but grape production is an obvious critical part of the process. Standard quality-driven production practices are essential, such as canopy management to allow sunlight and air to move through the entire vine, and pest and disease control to ensure a clean, reliable crop. Picking fruit at the right time is critical. We have to think a lot about color, flavor, sugar, and acidity in the the fruit when determining the right time to pick.  We want the finished wine to have delicate color, moderate alcohol, bright flavors, and crisp acidity. As it turns out, this means harvesting red grapes for rosé earlier than a grower would for red table wine.

Crushpad Decisions

Winemakers have a lot of decisions to make right at the beginning of the process. The biggest is how to manage color during processing. Traditional red grapes have all the color in their skin, and the flesh, or pulp, of the grape is colorless. However, there are some other grapes that have colored flesh as well. These are called teinturier cultivars, and their wines tend to be much more highly-colored.

Teinturier Illustration from winefolly

Some Midwest cultivars, namely Chambourcin and Frontenac, have this quality, which makes color management more challenging for rosé production. These grapes often require strategies to minimize color extraction at the crushpad, including:

  1. Whole-berry pressing – choosing to avoid crushing the fruit to minimize color extraction.  Whole berries are gently pressed to squeeze out the juice. They often use this method in Champagne production with Pinot noir, which is why these wines often have little to no pink hue.
  2. Crush and immediate press – most common because it yields more juice than whole berry pressing.  In traditional red wine production, grapes would be crushed and then fermented on the skins to extract color, flavor, and structural components.  This method avoids skin contact as much as possible.  Free-run juice, that which runs freely from the crusher, if often separated from the press fraction, and is lighter in color.
  3. Saignée – explained above, but generally not used because of excessive color extraction.  The fruit was also harvested for red wine production, which throws of the flavor/sugar/acid balance.
Grape Press for 2018 Rosé – Photo Courtesy of Megan Shelato, Winemaker at Alto Vineyards

Other Impactful Decisions Prior to Fermentation

If the fruit chemistry wasn’t perfect, winemakers can make small adjustments to sugar, acid, and structural components prior to fermentation.  Additionally, the yeast strains chosen can make an impact on the sensory properties of the finished wine.  Winemakers will often divide the lot into several independent fermentations, adding variables such as free vs. press juice, different fermentation temperatures, and different yeast strains, with the intent of blending the parts together later to improve complexity.


Most of the work post-fermentation is a basic clean-up process similar to white winemaking practices, with an emphasis on getting the wine brilliantly clear and beautiful. Blending also plays a prominent role in crafting the perfect wine. The finished wine should be attractive, with delicate but complex flavors, and a clean, crisp acidic finish.

There are so may different variables at play, from site and cultivar to crushpad decisions to yeast and fermentation characteristics that it should be no wonder that there are so many unique rosé wines available! The wines from the 2018 vintage are looking great right now, so keep your eyes open in early 2019 for their release.

juice out of the press
2018 Rosé Pressing – Photo courtesy of Megan Shelato, Winemaker at Alto Vineyards

Happy Holidays!


On the Road with Illinois Rosé

6.27, part 2.  Hidden Lake Winery’s Ruby Rosé with Avonlea Schoenberg

“How did we get here?”


As part of this project, I’ve been trying to connect with people with a variety of professional backgrounds, and during my search discovered Avonlea Schoenberg. Avonlea is a writer, social media superstar, and local wine enthusiast who goes by the handle “Whimsical Wine Woman“. Hailing from Edwardsville IL, she spends as much time as she can traveling around the state and promoting its wineries.

IMG-0744“I used to hate wine when I was younger” she explained. “There was always wine around, but the snobby people around me really turned me off of the stuff. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I had a wine that made me realize that not all wine sucks!”

I asked her what the wine was that changed everything for her.  “Starview Vineyards‘ Silver Star. It’s a sweet white wine that’s fruity and fun, and the winery staff didn’t make me feel like a dork for liking sweet wine.” That’s a common story that is repeated across our entire industry. Illinois tasting rooms entertain newcomers to wine all the time, and are thrilled to have the opportunity to be someone’s first great wine experience.

One of the goals of the Illinois Rosé project is to also connect new people to Illinois wine, so I think we’re going to get along great.  The wine I chose for Avonlea is Hidden Lake Winery’s Ruby Rosé.  Avonlea has never been to Hidden Lake, but had heard about it many times. “It seems like all of my friends got married here!”  img_0108-3That makes sense, as Hidden Lake is a beautiful site with ponds, waterfalls, and adorable cabins spread around the grounds. In fact, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch just named Hidden Lake as the “Best Winery for an Overnight Stay.” They also feature an amazing indoor banquet space which keeps their wedding calendar full practically year-round. Hidden Lake Winery has been around for a while, but has recently come under the ownership of Steve and Angela Gorazd, who have brought a new passion and dedication to quality that is already paying dividends. Winemaker Cory Kunkle has been turning out some really impressive wines this year!

I sat down with Avonlea to taste the Ruby Rosé. It’s a different style than many in the project – it’s got a little more color and structure than most, but I think that is what makes it exciting. Like many of the wines in the project, it’s made from the Chambourcin grape, but I really like the unique style. Steve indicated that they were going for something more like a rosé from Cabernet Sauvignon than a traditional Provence wine. I asked Avonlea for her impressions:




She clearly loved it, despite the fact that is bone dry and has nice smooth tannin.  Then she pulled out a package – “I brought a giant rosé float for the tasting! I saw it, and thought “YES!”.”  IMG-0755There’s something celebratory about wine in general, and rosé wine specifically, so I get it.  Cold rosé wine and a fun, outdoor experience should go really well together, especially in the Midwest summer heat. My job used to be to pick wines apart, but Avonlea is all about the fun!  I love her refreshing outlook on wine, and need to adopt a little more of that in my own life moving forward.

Steve blew up the float and off we went, along with the winery dog pack, to enjoy a dip in the pond.

“This is a place more people need to know about”, said Avonlea. I agree! It’s only about 40 minutes east of downtown St. Louis, but it feels like a whole world away. The wines across the list are top-notch, and they have a beautiful site for weddings and other events. Steve mentioned later that more and more people are traveling from the St. Louis metro area to visit all the time.


I had a great experience at Hidden Lake Winery.  I have a feeling this place is going to grow quickly, so I’d recommend getting out and paying Steve and Angela a visit while it’s still a hidden gem! Thanks to Steve Gorazd and the Whimsical Wine Woman for a great evening, and our project sponsors:

ilda logo                    illinois-wine-logo

See you on the road next time! Please subscribe here to receive notifications of future posts.!  Cheers!






On the Road with Illinois Rosé

6.27 Massbach Ridge Sunrise with Nick and Rachel from Cristaudo’s


Cristaudo’s Café and Bakery is a Carbondale institution. Initially started in the 70’s, it was reopened about 7 years ago by Rachel Cristaudo (the founder’s daughter) and Nick Stewart at a new downtown Carbondale location with the intention of expanding well beyond the bakery concept. They’re now serving breakfast and lunch daily and hosting special events in the evenings. Nick and Rachel have been longtime friends and supporters of the Shawnee Hills wine industry, participating in regular sensory sessions with winemakers and catering Shawnee Hills Wine Trail events.

Rachel Cristaudo and Nick Stewart

Like most small business owners, they work practically around the clock to make this happen.  However, I was delighted to see that a college-town café in the summer can maintain such a devoted customer base. The place was packed on a Wednesday afternoon, which sends the message that there’s more to this place than just food. I asked them about it.  Nick replied, “There’s a strong community of artists, musicians, chefs, and winemakers in southern Illinois. We work hard to support each other. For example, we have a gift shop that promotes works by local artists, and we try to make sure we have an evening of music at least once a month. We got our liquor license last year, and now have some local wines on the menu.”


Peggy Harmston

massbach bottle

I thought it would be fun to give them something they hadn’t had before, I so brought a wine all the way down from Elizabeth, IL. Massbach Ridge Winery is the brainchild of Peggy Harmston, who was raised on a dairy farm, and returned to Illinois to open the winery in 2003. Her agricultural past speaks to her determination and work ethic, and Peggy now manages a sizeable estate vineyard in Jo Daviess County. She’s a past recipient of the IGGVA “Grape Grower of the Year” award, and it shows. Their site is gorgeous! They have eight acres of vines planted at high elevation in the middle of the rolling hills of NW Illinois. The site is several miles away from any town, so this is a great place to escape to!

I opened the bottle in the early afternoon, and began the tasting with Rachel and Nick.  The color is beautiful – “Sunrise” is the perfect name for this wine. sunriseIt has several different shades of pink, red, and orange that work together very well. The first sip revealed a surprising streak of acid.  This isn’t unusual on the first taste of the day, but this wine had something more to offer. The wine, on its own, cleared away the my mid-afternoon haze and prepared me for the task ahead.

Marechal Foch

Many of the grape varieties grown in northern Illinois are known for their high acidity. For a long time, this was seen by the industry as a negative. However, over the last decade it’s been shown that it can be managed effectively and make outstanding wines that are at their very best when paired with food.

Luckily, I’m in the right place. Earlier in our conversation, Nick, Rachel, and I were discussing the challenges of getting folks in the Midwest to open up a little more to the concept of a glass of wine with Breakfast or Lunch. This wine is begging for Brunch!

Rachel said “I’d love to see this wine with avocado. Those flavors and that acidity would really work well and cut through the oils and fats.” Nick agreed, and immediately disappeared into the back. He returned after a few moments with a plate of avocado and a few cheeses from a nearby creamery.  Easy Homemade Guacamole Recipe-2The avocado on its own almost worked, but you’d like the combination to finish with wine flavors, and the avocado on its own wouldn’t relinquish its grip on the palate.  My take was that if you added some salt, lemon juice, and garlic to the avocado, you’d have a winning pairing.  Guacamole it is!

Additionally, Nick started rattling off ideas for breakfast dishes.  “Anything with Hollandaise” would work perfectly, and the wine had enough fruit and floral notes, along with that strong acidity, to contrast beautifully.

Brunch is a great idea for great rosé pairing ideas: quiche, fruit salads, bacon and anything, eggs, Hollandaise sauce, tacos, salmon, shrimp, root veggies, and especially guac, would all work great.  Essentially, as long as you stay on the savory side of the menu, you should find something that will make a great pairing, and add something more to your experience than bloody mary’s or mimosas can (not to besmirch the pillars of brunch-time libations).

So, dear reader, your assignment is to start experimenting with Illinois rosé at your next brunch experience, and let me know how it works out! I hope it will open some eyes to a whole new world of possibilities.

Thanks to Cristaudo’s, Massbach Ridge Winery, and our project sponsors:

ilda logo                    illinois-wine-logo

See you at brunch next time! Please subscribe here to receive notifications of future posts.!  Cheers!

On the Road with Illinois Rosé

6.19 August Hill Winery Chambourcin Rosé with Ken Myszka, Epiphany Farms

“It’s a beautiful day!”

Ken Myszka is always on the move. He rolled up on the Downs, IL farm property late in the afternoon, apparently having just finished up a business meeting.  nortonHowever, the minute he hopped out of the truck, you could see a calm enthusiasm wash over him. He’s clearly happiest when surrounded by the farm. We were quickly off and running, checking out his new hazelnut plantings, the original farm site, various veggie plots, and at last (hooray!) the vineyard.

Ken is the founder of the Epiphany Farms Hospitality Group, a restaurant and events collaborative with a real, committed focus to the promotion of locally-grown food. They go a step beyond the typical farm to table place by actually producing much of the food they serve. In fact, one of the core principles of this business is that everybody on the team, from the president to chefs to the servers, commits a significant amount of time working on the farm as well. downloadKen himself wears a lot of hats, including Owner, Business Manager, Marketing Guru, Chef, and Farmer. He’d be the first to share that it’s a group effort, and gives a lot of credit for his success to his team, but it’s clear that he’s the engine that keeps this machine running. This reminds me a lot of many of our small farm wineries, where the owners are the main employees, and serve as the owners, business managers, marketing directors, grape growers, wine makers, event coordinators, and tasting room staff. It’s really tough to make it work, and you have to have an absolute passion for the work to succeed.

I chose August Hill Winery’s Chambourcin Rosé for Ken for a few reasons. Ken and Mark Wenzel (owner/winemaker at August Hill) share that many-hats entrepreneurial spirit I discussed above, but they also both dedicate themselves to the idea that just being local isn’t enough – you have to produce something amazing. August Hill Winery first opened their doors in 2002, and over the last 15 years it has been a real privilege to get to watch them grow into leaders of the Illinois wine industry. They’ve even added to a new brand, Illinois Sparkling Co., which has really found a way to maximize the potential of northern Illinois wine grape cultivars.

IMG-0774When I poured the wine, Ken was instantly thrilled by the gorgeous color and intensely floral nose. I could tell by his reaction that he was surprised by the taste on the palate.  “Wow!  That is really crisp! I was expecting something sweet from the nose.” I asked him if that tartness sends him any kind of message.  “Absolutely!  This wine is begging for food.” Ken currently runs three restaurants: Epiphany Farms, Anju Above, and Old Bank.  Each have their own distinct personality, and I asked him where he thought this wine would be most at-home.  “Definitely Anju Above.  It’s an upbeat place, with a creative menu which includes sushi, salads, artisan pizzas, and Korean dishes. The food we serve there is completely fun, but also unlike anything else you’re likely to find in central Illinois. This wine would work with so many dishes we serve there, from sushi to pork buns to bbq pizza.”

I get that sentiment. This rosé is soooooooo good on its own, but the flavor intensity and bracing acidity would stand up well to a wide variety of foods without getting lost in the sensory experience. This wine is also a past Governor’s Cup winner for Rosé at the Illinois State Fair Wine Competition, and takes home a lot of hardware from competitions all around the country.

I could tell I got Ken’s wheels turning a little. He mentioned that he would love to feature great local wines like this at his restaurants at some point in the future. I think lots of local restaurants would like to feature more Illinois wine, but struggle with the choices they have. With over 100 wineries each producing anywhere from 10 to 50 wines, it’s difficult to know what will work for them, and sometimes even harder to get the wines they want for a whole host of other reasons. By creating a single, quality-assured signature style, this project will hopefully help these folks find their way to Illinois wines, and start developing long-term relationships with great Illinois wineries!


My wife and I recently visited the August Hill tasting room in downtown Utica, right next to the beautiful Starved Rock State Park.  It’s a really impressive space, and the wines, food, and service are all outstanding.  I highly recommend a visit! Thanks to August Hill Winery and Ken Myszka for their time, and our project sponsors for their support:

See you on the road next time! Please subscribe here to receive notifications of future posts.

On the Road with Illinois Rosé

6.10 – Blue Sky Vineyard 2017 Rosé with The Brazilionaires!

“I was thrilled with the crowd last night!”

I met up with Rico Johnson and Dove Benoit, founders of the outstanding Brazilian dance/party sensation known as The Brazilionaires, at their swanky Bossa Nova Pad a day after they headlined the Pour Bros fest in Peoria Heights, IL. bzaThe weather was perfect for this outdoor performance, and an enormous crowd showed up for a three-hour tour of bossa nova standards, originals, and creative covers of popular music in a traditional Brazilian style. The Brazilionaires have a real knack for bringing and sustaining a great energy that is fun for everyone.

I’ve known Dove and Rico for a while – I think I was at their first show back in 2012 at the Black Rabbit in downtown Peoria, and got to know them a little at a house party or two ahead of that event. It was clear to me then that these two had a real chemistry, and a great sense of style. They now live and record in Nashville, TN, but still get back to Illinois as often as they can. If you haven’t heard them, here’s a nice introduction. However, I’d encourage you all to get out and see them live!

Since the rosé project began, I’ve been thinking about wine and music, and the bossa nova sound really clicks with rosé wine. They’re both upbeat and fun, but maintain a balance of heart and soul underneath the surface. Some musical styles can wear a person down over time (as can some wines!), but bossa nova has this great balance of rhythm and tenderness that you can listen to for days without getting fatigued. Setting also has a lot of influence – rosé feels at home at a pool party, with dinner, and late at night, but the emotional impact changes according to the situation. Bossa nova hits me in a very similar way.

The wine I chose for this session is Blue Sky Vineyard’s 2017 Rosé. This is one of the most-decorated rosé wines in the project, taking home medals from multiple competitions year after year. bsv labelMost recently, they took a gold at the 2018 Experience Rosé International Wine Competition! Last year, this wine took the Governor’s Cup for Illinois-grown rosé at the 2017 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition. Within the Illinois wine community, Blue Sky winemakers Karen Hand and Kaleb Wilson are renowned for their creativity, work ethic, and attention to detail.  They make a ton of great wines from many different grapes, most being grown in the Shawnee Hills American Viticulture Area in southern Illinois. However, they don’t get enough credit for the emotional impact (aka soul?) of the wines the produce (from vineyard to bottle). I guess that is harder to measure, but Blue Sky Wines aren’t just technically great, they connect with people on a deeper level. Blue Sky Vineyard also happens to be one of the most beautiful sites in all of Illinois.

Rico and Dove are just the people I needed to help me see the wine in a different way. They’re not wine industry professionals, but have a profound relationship with wine on their own terms. The first time I met Rico we spent a most of our time discussing the ‘Chambourcin’ grapes he was growing in his backyard. Dove, an enthusiastic cook, has recently begun experimenting with wines within the context of a meal. In fact, she prepared and arranged a nice array of appetizers for us to play with during our tasting. One of the takeaways was that salty and creamy foods each pair great with this wine, but the impact is felt in different ways.

bsv bottle lavaInstead of focusing on the sensory descriptors, etc., we took a more creative approach.  I challenged them to focus on how the wine makes them feel first.  We started things off with simple word association:

  • Dreamy strawberry
  • Smooth but crisp
  • Expressive
  • Intense and fruity
  • Romantic

They nailed it – this wine has an intense, balanced nose of fresh strawberry and floral notes, with a little citrus beneath the surface.  All that flavor creates the illusion of sweetness on the palate, but the wine is very dry, with a crisp, acidic finish.

The terms “dreamy”, “expressive”, and “romantic” were exactly what I was looking for! In wine professional circles, these terms aren’t used much because we try to dissect a wine into its definable parts.  However, people often use these because it’s a way to communicate how a wine makes them feel, which in my opinion is every bit as important as being able to describe the wine itself. Because these two clearly love music, I wanted to dig a little deeper into the romance and connect this wine with music, specifically the bossa nova sound. My question: “You’re at a pool party, the sun is shining bright, and you’re about to take a leisurely trip down a water slide into a pool filled with this rosé. What’s the song you want to be the soundtrack for your ride?”

Dove immediately recommended “O Barquinho” by Karrin Allyson. This song is smooth and playful, but has an interesting balance of light and dark elements. I get the connection, and the song is great! I wanted to to mine this a little more, and asked them to create an official Brazilionaires Rosé playlist.

Perfect with a Glass of Rosé


What really got me excited is how surprised both Dove and Rico were about this wine.  “This might be the best Illinois wine I’ve ever tried! I would definitely buy this again.” said Rico. As luck would have it, their trip back to Nashville happens to take them right through the Shawnee Hills, so I expect they’ll be able to get up close and personal with the winery very soon.

The Brazilionaires and the Illinois Rosé Project have a lot in common.  “As performers, we’re always trying to stretch our demographic and reach new people who may not be that familiar with us, or Latin music in general.” said Rico.  Sound familiar?  The Brazilionaires are trying to build a bridge to bossa nova, just like the Illinois rosé project is trying to build a bridge to locally grown wine for new consumers!

Just as we were wrapping things up, Dove brought out a surprise! A Provence rosé appeared from the chiller, and was presented for a quick comparison. Provence is in southeastern France, and probably has the strongest reputation for rosé wine quality in the world. This region is largely responsible for the tremendous rise in the popularity of rosé in the United States, and is the standard to which all dry rosés are held. I’m happy to share that we all preferred the wine from Blue Sky! Without getting into too much detail, I can share that I was heartened to see how favorably Illinois wine can compare with other wines from around the world, especially from highly-acclaimed regions and producers.


So, if you’re new to Illinois wine, give this Blue Sky Vineyards rosé a try!  Thanks so much to Blue Sky Vineyards and The Brazilionaires for lending a hand and to our project sponsors:

See you on the road next time! Please subscribe here to receive notifications of future posts.

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:

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  The suggested donation will be $10/person (at the door). 

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