"I'm really excited about the number of wineries that received medals this year," said Brad Beam, University of Illinois Extension enology specialist. "The quality of the winning wines reflects the growers' and wineries' increased experience and expertise, and I'd like to think that all the workshops, short courses, and roundtables I've held around the state have helped, too," he said.
The competition, which featured both a commercial and amateur division, was held on June 4 on the U of I campus--the first time the Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition has hosted this "huge and successful event," he said.
With 267 wines entered in the commercial division alone, judges spent two and a half days assessing quality and offering honest feedback to Illinois winemakers.
"Each wine is looked at individually and assessed on its merits," Beam said.
Pheasant Hollow Winery's Red and Blue won Best of Show. The winery is located in Whittington.
Winners of the Governor's Cup for Illinois-grown fruit included Prairie State Winery, Genoa, for red table wine, Blue Sky Vineyard, Makanda, for white table wine, Lynfred Winery, Naperville, for sweet table wine, Willet's Winery, Manito, for blush/rosé, Pomona Winery, Pomona, for fruit wine, and Kickapoo Creek Winery, Edwards, for dessert wine.
A complete list of award-winning wines is available at www.illinoiswine.com.
"To say that the Illinois wine industry is growing rapidly would be an understatement," Beam said. "There are 79 wineries in the state now, with at least two others scheduled to open in the next year. And the quality of the wines is increasing dramatically too," Beam said.
Organizers of the event selected a diverse panel of judges--"there were academics who were knowledgeable about wine production, wine writers, winemakers from other states, and a few talented consumers familiar with the Illinois wine industry," he said.
The amateur competition was exciting for the passion the hobbyists brought to the competition, said Beam.
"On the whole, their wines were great," he said. "The amateurs enter because they want honest feedback--and some bragging rights. They know each other, and they're a tad competitive."
Beam can't imagine a better way to cap off a sweltering day at the state fair than to sip fine Illinois wines in the air-conditioned Twilight Ballroom.
"I hope fairgoers will stop by," he said. "If they do, I can almost guarantee they'll develop an enthusiasm for our Illinois wineries."