Illinois is an American state south of the Great Lakes region and bordered by Missouri to the west and Indiana to the east. The state is one of the fastest-growing wine producers in the US; the number of wineries doubled in the late 1990s and has since expanded to more than a hundred.
Illinois covers 58,000 square miles (150,000 sq km) and stretches between the latitudes of 36°N and 42°N, similar to northern California. However, the unpredictable and often harsh winters in the Midwest mean that viticulture here is not as widespread as in the key Californian regions of Napa Valley and Sonoma County. Most of the vineyards in Illinois are located in the south, where they can take advantage of slightly warmer temperatures and increased exposure to sunshine.
Illinois has had a long and productive viticultural history that dates back to the mid-19th Century, when settlers planted grapes along the banks of the Mississippi River to make wine. At the turn of the century, Illinois was the fourth-largest wine-producing state in the US. As in so many states, this burgeoning wine industry was devastated by the advent of Prohibition in 1920, when most Illinois vineyards were uprooted in favor of cereal crops. Viticulture returned to the state in the 1980s. (? Proprietary Content, Wine-Searcher.)
Illinois is mostly flat, having been leveled by glacial movement in the last Ice Age. The state's rich loam soils vary in suitability for grape-growing. The biggest threats to the wine industry here have proved to be the harsh winter conditions and damage from herbicides such as 2,4-D, used in other forms of agriculture. This has not deterred growers, however: commercial vineyards in Illinois now account for more than 1000 acres (405ha), with new wineries opening on a regular basis.
Illinois is home to two American Viticultural Areas: Shawnee Hills in the southern tip of the state, and the massive Upper Mississippi Valley AVA that also encompasses land in Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin. The first of these, Shawnee Hills, is one of the most prolific and firmly established viticultural areas of the Midwest, despite having been delimited as an AVA only in 2006.
French-American hybrid grape varieties have proved the most suited to the climate with Chambourcin, Seyval Blanc, Marechal Foch and Ravat Vignoles making up a significant portion of the state's plantings. The cross-pollination of these French-American hybrids are less susceptible to frosts and extreme cold, ideal for the unpredicatable weather of Illinois. Niagara, Frontenac Gris and Saint Pepin also feature on the grape inventory of Illinois and are commonly made into semi-sweet to dessert style varietals.