The best winemakers know that great wine is made in the vineyard. The quality of grapes being grown in Illinois is a part of the reason that the quality of Illinois wine is increasing. Recently, Midwest Wine Press visited grape growers in Southern Illinois whose grapes are being made into award-winning wines by Northern Illinois wineries.
Heimann Vineyards, Dix, Illinois: Ryan Heimann and Dan Duncan
Ryan Heimann and his partner Dan Duncan grow all French American hybrids and Cabernet Franc on eight acres just north of Mt.Vernon, Illinois. Vineyards of this size are common in Illinois, partially because much vineyard labor is carefully done by hand. Spraying and mowing at Heimann Vineyards is done with a tractor, but pruning, leaf thinning, and harvesting are all done by hand. (Publisher’s note: That hand harvested, hand-made Midwest wines are available for less than $20 a bottle is one of the great values in the wine world.)
A well-managed but relatively small Southern Illinois vineyard, like Heimann Vineyards, can produce a lot of grapes. For example, Chambourcin yields at Heimann are between 6.5 to 7.5 tons per acre. Chambourcin grows vigorously in Southern Illinois so it’s an advantage that Heimann’s soil is less fertile than the dark earth 25 miles west. Chambourcin losses from April freezes were minor with only a 5% loss, according to Heimann.
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Seyval Blanc occupies the most acreage at Heimann Vineyards with some Seyval vines as old as 13 years. Seyval buds broke first this year and had some April freeze damage, but the vines have since repaired most of frost damage themselves. Heimann applies a liquid fertilizer that includes calcium nitrate and nitrogen at a pound an acre to help vines that have been frost damaged.
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