Brad Beam: 2012 Illinois Grape Growers Conference a “Great Value”
Over 250 were in attendance at the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association Conference held in Springfield, Illinois from February 2-4. The tone of the affair was a combination of education and celebration; a tremendous example of a rapidly-growing industry keeping its eyes on the future without losing sight of its history.
This event continues to be a great value, both academically and financially. It comprised a full three days of marketing, enology, and viticulture lectures, including a technical tasting and evening sessions. The organizers did a great job maintaining a high quality level while keeping the conference affordable. The accompanying trade show was a huge hit, both for the attendees and vendors. Ample time was given to visit all the vendors, and the more intimate nature of a smaller conference allowed for the cultivation of new professional relationships. A strong, core group of local grape and wine specialists as well as students were on hand to deliver much of the material. Several excellent speakers from around the country were recruited to present information as well.
The first day of the conference was devoted to marketing, an increasingly important topic for winemakers. Paul Wagner, of the Napa firm Balzac Communication and Marketing, delighted the audience with a host of eye-opening marketing concepts. Several in attendance indicated the intent to adopt many of the valuable ideas Paul presented over the course of the day. Balzac discussed the importance of brand development. “Everyone makes great wine,” he said. “What makes your business unique is the real question.”
Tim Hanni, certified Master of Wine, rounded out the day with revolutionary ideas regarding wine sensory evaluation, particularly as it relates to wine and food pairing. Both Wagner and Hanni presented well-received wine marketing strategies which, when implemented, will prove valuable in helping this young wine industry expand its focus and sell more wine.
The evening was capped off with an exciting wine and food exercise, hosted by IGGVA partner Lincoln Land Community College. In addition to conference attendees, Springfield area culinary leaders were provided with information regarding Illinois grape varieties and wine styles, as well as a basic guide to food pairing with these ‘new” wines. After I made a short introduction, attendees browsed the beautiful new teaching kitchens at LLCC while tasting a variety of foods prepared by their excellent culinary students and staff. Several wineries poured samples of their food-friendly wines, and session attendees were encouraged to experiment with different flavor, intensity, and textural combinations of the various pairings.
Friday kicked off with another brilliant session by Tim Hanni, who introduced the concept of ‘Vinotypes” and the human biology of sensory preferences. (MWP will publishing a full report on Hanni’s presentation later this month.)
A panel discussion regarding government inspections followed, as did technical presentations on oxygen and sulfur dioxide management in wine. The afternoon sessions were capped off with a technical tasting of Illinois Chambourcin and Frontenac wines. Illinois has a wide range of soils, topography, and mesoclimates. This tasting, consisting of unfinished wines produced using a standard protocol, was intended to highlight potential differences among these popular varieties due to site. These differences were evident to the attendees, showing that different strategies should be explored for producing these wines in different parts of the state.
Saturday’s sessions were all about viticulture, covering a variety of topics critical to both the beginner and veteran grower. Fritz Westover, of Texas A&M Extension provided a couple of great lessons on vine balance as it pertains to profitability and long-term vineyard sustainability. Rounding out the day were technical presentations on new insect pests, vineyard fertility, and potential concerns surrounding the development of new phenoxy herbicide formulations. Viticulture specialists Bill Shoemaker and Brad Taylor each presented their recommendations for varieties in northern and southern Illinois, respectively, while the student presentations focused on vine balance strategies in Cabernet Franc and Norton vines.
The conference was capped off with the annual awards banquet. Illinois wine industry leader Christine Lawlor-White received the Lifetime Achievement award. Chris has been making award-winning wines in Illinois since 1980 at Galena Cellars, and has been actively promoting the improvement of quality within the industry, as well as consumer education and acceptance ever since. She has received the Illinois ‘Winemaker of the Year” award in 2001, 2006, and 2007, and has won countless medals and awards at wine competitions all over the country. She continues to be an ambassador for Illinois wine, and shows no sign of slowing down. Galena Cellars’ ‘Daffodil Festival”a wine made from estate-grown La Crosse grapes, was awarded the 2011 Governor’s Cup for Illinois-grown white table wine at the 2011 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition, and was featured at the awards banquet dinner with the other top winners. Karen Hand, of Blue Sky Vineyards, received the Winemaker of the Year award, and John and Barb Harp, owners of Two Oaks Vineyard, received the award for Vineyard of the Year. A complete list of 2011 wine competition winners is available at www.illinoiswine.org
To say that a good time was had by all would not really do this wonderful event justice. We all come together year after year to not only improve our craft and the resultant products, but to celebrate each other and our mutual love of the work we do. Here’s to another great year for Illinois wine!
Brad Beam is the Enologist for the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association.