Around 1920 grape picking at Baxter Vineyard

Grape harvest at Baxter Vineyard in Nauvoo, IL – around 1920

Did you know that Illinois was one of the largest wine producers in the United States prior to prohibition? Illinois enjoys a rich winemaking history dating back to 1691!

1691-1812: The first record of winemaking in Illinois dates back to 1691 in an area just north of what is now Peoria. Frenchmen Tonti and Francois Daupin de LaForest build a fort in the area, and records show that the village surrounding the fort contains a winepress. In 1778, Jean Baptiste Maillet starts a settlement 1.5 miles south of the fort in an area that is now downtown Peoria. The village is called LaVille de Maillet, and the French settlers living here have an underground wine vault and a winepress. Half of the village was burns down in 1812 and is not rebuilt for quite a few years.

1830s: A German settlement in Belleville, Illinois, is producing wines from Isabella and Norton grapes

1850s: The number of vineyards and wineries increases rapidly throughout Illinois. According to “A History of Winemaking in America”, there are vineyards and wineries located in Nauvoo, Golconda, Mascoutah, Peoria, Belleville, St. Elmo, Collinsville, Bloomington, and other locations throughout Illinois.

1857: Emile Baxter and Sons open a winery in Nauvoo, IL, along the banks of the Mississippi River. Baxter’s Vineyards remains Illinois’ oldest operating winery and is run by a fifth generation of Baxters.

1860: A survey estimates that there are 500 acres of grapes in Illinois.

1868:  Illinois is producing approximately 225,000 gallons of wine

1880: There are 3,810 acres of grapes planted in Illinois and the state is producing 1,047,875 gallons of wine. In Nauvoo alone, there are over 600 acres of grapes and 40 wine cellars.

1900: Illinois is the fourth largest wine-producing state in the nation.

1919: The Prohibition Act prohibits the sale, transport, and production of alcohol. The Volstead Act allows the production of sacramental wines.  Some Illinois vineyards continue to grow table grapes, others uproot their vines to make way for corn and soybeans. The Baxter Brothers remain in business by selling the juice from their grapes to northern markets.

1933: The 21st Amendment to the Constitution was passed, ending national prohibition. Illinois approved this repeal, however, some counties within the state continued prohibition.  After Prohibition ended, many Illinois farmers were not willing to go to the effort to regrow the vines because they would have to wait almost three years before there was a marketable crop of any size and four to five years for a full crop.

1936: The Baxter family obtains a wine manufacturing license for Gem City Vineland Company, Illinois’ first bonded winery. In 1987, the winery is renamed Baxter’s Vineyards. To learn more about the history of Baxter’s Vineyard & Winery, visit http://www.nauvoowinery.com/

1976: Illinois passes a law allowing onsite sales at wineries.

1979: Fred and Lynn Koehler open Lynfred Winery and begin producing wine for consumers. Also, in the same year, the Lawlor family opens Galena Cellars Winery in Galena.

1980-1997: Wineries and vineyards are established throughout the northern, central and southern regions of Illinois, and there are 12 wineries by 1997.

2001: Illinois boasts 27 wineries.

2004: The Illinois wine industry has exploded; there are more than 50 wineries spread throughout the state. As of 2004, 63 Illinois wineries, working with 193 grape growers, produce 451,079 gallons of wine with an annual total positive economic impact estimated at $20 million.

2005: The Governor of Illinois designates September as “Illinois Wine Month.”

2006: A region in Southern Illinois is recognized as the Shawnee Hills American Viticulture Area (AVA) by the federal government. Illinois’ first AVA designation, this area encompasses 21 wineries and 55 vineyards.

2006: Total Illinois wine production in 2006 is 564,270 gallons. There are approximately 77 wineries in the state.

2008:  There are 79 wineries in Illinois and approximately 1,100 acres of vines.

2009: The Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA is established, becoming the largest in the U.S. This AVA includes regions of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and Illinois and represents 32 wineries and 445 vineyard acres.

2011: According to the IGGVA Economic Impact report, total wine production in Illinois was 651,800 gallons. There are approximately 105 wineries in the state.

Susanne BullockHistory of Illinois Wine