Illinois Hopes to Become 'wine Country'

URBANA, Ill., Oct. 14 (UPI) — Illinois may not immediately come to mind when talking about “wine country,” but its wild grapes could be the key to a booming business, researchers say.

There are already 90 wineries in the state, some producing up to 90,000 gallons annually, and researchers at the University of Illinois say the region’s wild grapes could be the key to more and better wines, a university release says.

Bill Shoemaker, superintendent at the university’s St. Charles Horticulture Research Center, is crossing wild grapes with proven wine grape varieties to create new strains that will flourish in the region’s colder weather.

“There are wild grapes growing along the roadside on I-57,” Shoemaker said. “The interstate grapes root easily with no further help. Their native genetics means that they have already adapted to this climate but they aren’t good for eating or wine-making.

“We’re crossing them with European grapes that have high quality to create new varieties that will grow in our climate and be a good wine grape,” he said.

The wild grapes have poor flavor and low yield, but several species have excellent disease resistance that could create breeding lines for a superior vineyard grape, researchers say.

“Grapes are popular with many pests,” Shoemaker said. “There are insect challenges at every point in the growing season, especially during harvest. There are also several fungal diseases that can infect current varieties.

“There isn’t much grape breeding being done to create improved varieties globally. We’re working to improve the fruit quality and develop new flavor profiles in wine,” he said.

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