Most wineries in Illinois moonlight as something else. Winery/pie shop. B & B and tasting room. Wine shop/coffee house. Whatever the arrangement, these conjoined operations offer some insight into the mind of the winemaker. My experience is that good wine usually accompanies a good secondary (or tertiary) product. So the absolute value of one’s Chambourcin = the absolute value of one’s fudge, etc.
This brings us to Kickapoo Creek Winery. Their model is Winery/nursery/wedding hall. Sometime back, a friend of mine asked for my future opinion of the wines poured at a wedding he’d just attended. He did not recall which wines they drank. All he knew was they came from the attached winery, and that the white surpassed the red. I had just tasted their Nort Noir port* days before, and it remains one of the best wines I’ve had from Illinois.
We drove to Edwards, Ill., and tasted through nearly all the wines they offered last week. It’s rather unfortunate that this sign is the first sight you see when you exit off I-74. They did charge a nominal, 33-cent tasting fee per wine. While annoying, many municipalities require it to prevent free booze giveaways. I found all the wines tasted to be well made, balanced and worth the $10-15. What really stood out were the sticky wines. Overall good stuff. It’s fair to note that many of these are available at a local bottle shop. Here’s what I liked best:
St. Croix: It’s rare to see a straight St. Croix. I am not sure if this one was indicative of the natural grape character, but is pretty tasty. This is a higher acid red that’s crisp and medium bodied. Flavors are dominated by plum, pepper and black raspberry. I can see this hanging in for a few more years too.
Nookeynay Meskwaai: No, I don’t remember what the name means. A sweeter red that balances the jammy flavors provided by Chambourcin with spice from Norton and acid from Frontenac. This is the kind of wine that really fits our Midwestern palates. We all claim to only drink dry wines, yet wines like these always sell best for local winemakers. Hmmmm.
Blue Ice: This is a very pure and beautiful expression of Traminette. Floral, waxy and peachy, with layers of flavor and a bracing acidity capable of handling all the sugar in this bottle. Something you aren’t likely to find replicated many other places.
Chamery: An aged Chambourcin that drinks just like fine cream sherry but really holds its own unique character. Sherry lacks the raspberry jam character so pervasive in this wine. It’s perfectly balanced and ready to accompany some aged cheeses and roasted nuts.
*Port carries along so many preconceptions of what the drink should taste of. Great ports are medicinal, spicy and warming. Bad ones, are even more so. And the sordid details of American bullying in international trade agreements means we still get to poach ‘burgundy’, ‘sherry’, port’ and champagne from old world lexicon (and tried tradition). Eventually, even our clout in demanding our way in such mundane concessions will run out. Rather than being suddenly forced to change what products are called, American producers should start naming styles of our own. Besides, we need not compete head on by trying to reproduce old favorites. Classic wine styles offer a guide to what works, but laws are quite loose when it comes to specifics. The freedom attached to our young wine industry should promote innovation, not copycatting.