Notes on the 2011 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition

It’s been a crazy month!  The competition was held this year at Lincoln Land Community College – a new site for us that brought a few new challenges.  However, the students and staff at LLCC were incredibly helpful, and the competition ran very smoothly for the duration.  I’ve made it through the competition in one piece, and the results this year are outstanding!

Best of Show: Prairie State Winery, Cabernet Franc, 2009

Governor’s Cup Awards for Illinois-Grown Products

  • Red Table: Blue Sky Vineyards, Cabernet Franc 2007
  • White Table: Galena Cellars, Daffodil Festival La Crosse 2010
  • Blush/Rosé: Kite Hill Vineyards, White Chambourcin 2010
  • Fruit: Pheasant Hollow Winery, Midnight Medley 2010
  • Dessert: Pheasant Hollow Winery, Autumn Mist 2009

Top Awards, from any appellation:

  • Red Table: Hickory Ridge Vineyard, Norton NV
  • White Table: Blue Sky Vineyards, Vignoles 2010
  • Dessert: Galena Cellars, Framboise 2010

Top Awards for the Amateur Competition

  • Best of Show, Grape:  Jeff Pankow – Blue Star Vineyard, Frontenac Rosé 2010
  • Best of Show, Non-Grape: Matt Haas, Blackberry 2010

Commercial Competition Summary:

250 Entries, 222 Medals Awarded – 89%

  • 32 Gold or Consensus Gold
  • 112 Silver
  • 78 Bronze

Amateur Competition Summary:

128 Entries, 99 Medals Awarded

  • 15 Gold
  • 38 Silver
  • 46 Bronze

So, the results are very promising for the future of Illinois wines!  Looking back at the first year I ran the competition (2006), the results were not so exciting – I think there were 9 golds, and a total medal count of around 50%.  I’m proud of the strides we’ve made as an industry!  As industry-wide education and experience grow, so do the quality of our wines.

When I first started as the industry specialist, the general public opinion regarding our industry was not terribly positive.  This opinion was warranted, at least in part, based on the relative inexperience of many of our wineries and grape growers.  Many consumers made huge generalizations based on a limited sample size; they would taste one or two faulty wines, and determine that Illinois wines were not worth pursuing any further.  I guess the take-home message here is: if you haven’t tried Illinois wines in while, it’s time to revisit them!

  Our Judges

This group worked diligently over a three-day span to assign awards to all 379 wines entered into this year’s competition.  They approach these wines from differing perspectives: some are academics in the grape and wine world, some retailers from wine shops, some are enthusiastic consumers, and some are chefs with a keen eye for wine.

This last category is one that I find very exciting!  This year, we had two excellent chefs judge: August Mrozowski of Augie’s in Springfield, and James Beard Foundation nominee Glenn Bardgett of Annie Gunn’s in St. Louis.  While Glenn has been a veteran supporter of Midwest wines, this was a new experience for Augie.  He was very surprised at the quality of the wines across the board, and even indicated how he looked forward to carrying Illinois wines in his restaurant in the near future!

This is the message I want to share, as it is one of the purposes of this blog – there are many food-friendly wines available in Illinois.  The only thing keeping foodies from using Illinois wines is exposure and education.  From a chef’s perspective, I think it would be exciting to consider all the new pairing possibilities!  Our grape varieties, such as Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin, Norton, Seyval blanc, Traminette, etc., all have unique flavor profiles that should really expand the possibilities for food pairing at restaurants.  All we need now is for the pioneering chefs out there to take notice, and start the experiment.  More information on that in the coming months.

In the meantime, check out the official results at, and hunt some of these wines down before they sell out!



About localpour

Winemaker, scientist, educator.
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1 Response to Notes on the 2011 Illinois State Fair Wine Competition

  1. localpour says:

    By the way, thanks to judge/photographer Mel Runge for the pics!

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