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. However, 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. Ken 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.
When 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:
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