How central Illinois wineries thrive in a cold climate zone

Published: Sep. 22, 2022 at 6:38 PM CDT
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PEORIA (25 News Now) - Central Illinois is home to many local wineries, but typically grapes like hot and dry climates. So, how does it work? Diane Hahn, General Manager of Mackinaw Valley Winery, said “In order to have grapes that produce well and are healthy and thrive, we grow French-American hybrids. They can withstand our winters, if the temperature gets down to thirty below they will not die.”

But when we get a late and unexpected freeze, it can harm the crop. Bob Barry, Owner of Tres Rojas Winery, said “In 2020, we had a really late, really hard freeze. and the other vineyard we were working at the time had shoots that were about a foot long, and the flower clusters come out in that first shoot. And so all of those shoots were frozen and killed back.”

Grapes have a three bud cycle and it’s important that the first bud survives. Hahn added, “If we lose our first bud, we’ll get a second bud but we’ll get half as much fruit. And if we lose that bud to late freeze or frost in the spring when it’s not expected, then we have a third bud but we probably won’t have any fruit on that.”

Another factor that can impact the grapes is too much rain. Barry said, “Closer you get you to harvest, you know you get those sugars building up and then you get a heavy rain just prior to harvest and it dilutes them all down.” --which then affects their flavor. Outside of weather affecting the crop itself, it can affect wineries business.

Hahn said, “Wineries are very dependent on people coming to your property and enjoying your product, wine, food, whatever it is. And so when we have inclement weather or weather issues that we struggle with, of course that affects people coming out.” She said even if it’s raining outside, you can still hang out inside at many local wineries here and have a good time. As far as harvest goes this year, both Tres Rojas and Mackinaw Valley Wineries had great things to say.

Bob Barry said, “Our Léon Millot grapes over here, we only expected to get about a ton and we got over two tons of grapes off the vines in their first production season.” Diane Hahn concluded, “A summer like we had this year, typically we get some better fruit production, not that it increases the amount of fruit we get, but we get better quality grapes and that the juices is a little more concentrated in the grapes.”