Walker’s Bluff Introduces Illinois Pinot Gris
Walker’s Bluff Winery near Carbondale, Illinois, has bottled an estate grown Pinot Grigio, according to winemaker Chelsea Mulinax. Also in production at Walker’s Bluff are several other wines made from vinifera grapes that have not been produced in Illinois for generations, if ever. Among the other wines that Walker’s Bluff will be bottling using grapes from their 14 acre vineyard are Barbera, Syrah and Tempranillo.
Walker’s Bluff also grows Sangiovese and Sangranito with the later vines planted in 2012. Mulinax reports that the Sangiovese is thriving with 95% of vines producing fruit during the 2012 harvest. Tempranillo also seems well suited to Southern Illinois conditions, she said.
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On the other hand, last year’s heat and drought produced significant mortality for Syrah, although the vineyard is drip irrigated. Despite the reduced crop, Mulinax said that the 2012 Syrah produced a high quality wine with “delicate floral notes” that will be priced at around $130 a bottle. The 2012 Pinot Grigio, which may be the first commercial Illinois Pinot Grigio since Prohibition, will be priced around $35-$30 a bottle, she said.
All the winery’s grafted, phylloxera resistant rootstock was purchased by Walker’s Bluff from Vintage Nursery in Wasco, California. The winery’s website states the Walker’s Bluff worked with horticulturists at Cal Tech to design strains of West Coast cultivars that can be grown in Southern Illinois. All grapes are grown on a vertical shoot positioning trellis system.
According to Mulinax, a graduate of Southern Illinois University who is from the Rockford area, winery owners David and Cynde Bunch wanted a departure from the wine grapes that are traditionally grown in Southern Illinois. So when the winery started in 2008, the Bunch’s planted 900 Barbera vines, 1,000 Tempranillo vines and 1,000 Sangiovese vines. (The only vinifera grape that is commonly grown in Southern Illinois is Cabernet Franc. Hybrid grapes comprise the majority of the planted acreage in the region.)
Last year, Walker’s Bluff opened their tasting room which is part of a 160 acre entertainment campus that includes a wine cave and outdoor amphitheater for concerts. The Bunch’s also plan to build a 100 room hotel and convention facility on the property.
Walker’s Bluff is not part of the nearby Shawnee Hills Wine Trail which lies in the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area. Instead, the winery has decided to operate independently. Mulinax said that Walker’s Bluff is considering a federal petition for a separate AVA that would include Walker’s Bluff and nearby Monte Alegre Winery. David and Beth Ponce of Monte Alegre helped Walker’s Bluff start their vineyard and winery.