Illinois wineries believe the state is keeping opportunities for economic growth bottled up. Paul Hahn, owner of Mackinaw Valley Winery in Mackinaw and past president of the Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Association, said the association wants the state to release about $225,000 in funding - money already appropriated by the General Assembly - to fund programs. 

Illinois wineries believe the state is keeping opportunities for economic growth bottled up.


Paul Hahn, owner of Mackinaw Valley Winery in Mackinaw and past president of the Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Association, said the association wants the state to release about $225,000 in funding - money already appropriated by the General Assembly - to fund programs.


Growing grapes and making wine often require expert advice - especially for wineries just getting started, he said.


Funding would allow for continuation of association seminars and other outreach programs that provide growers with the latest information.


Brenda Logan, owner of Baxter's Vineyard in Nauvoo and the association's secretary-treasurer, said the IGGVA "has done a lot of good things" since its inception in 1997.


"We provide outreach programs to wineries and growers as well as a Web site that serves the public," she said.


Hahn said that the investment in wine production benefits the state.


"What many people don't understand is that this state's wine industry has grown from a $25 million business to a $250 million business in the past seven years," said Hahn.


While the number of wineries in the state has expanded from five in 1990 to 86 now, state support is still needed, he said.


"(The industry) is still in its infancy in this state. I wish the Legislature would understand the payback: For every $1 allocated, the state gets back $10," said Hahn.


"My goal is for Illinois to be the premier grape-growing and wine-producing state in the Midwest in 10 years. But it will be hard to do without funding," he said.


Missouri is an example of a Midwestern competitor that not only provides an ongoing funding source for its wine industry but promotes that industry out-of-state - something Illinois doesn't do, said Hahn.


When Illinois reduced wine funding five years ago, the move cost the state some of its best experts, said Dan Willett of Willett's Winery in Manito.


"If we go back to individual wineries all doing their own thing that will be a huge step backward," he said.


"The Illinois wine industry is in a critical position right now. We're still growing and we don't have that critical mass yet to go out on our own," said Willett. "We don't always want to depend on tax money but losing state support would hurt our ability to hire workers and help small towns."


Logan noted the state's wineries produced 850,000 gallons of wine last year, paying a state excise tax of 73 cents a gallon.


"That amounts to $620,000 in funding for the state," she said.


The boost for state tourism that winemaking provides is shown by upcoming events in central Illinois, said Willett, citing the Illinois River Wine, Art & Jazz Festival on May 23 in Manito's Memorial Park.


The Mackinaw winery hosts its annual international wine and beer festival May 30-31, said Hahn. "Three thousand people attended last year," he said.


Steve Tarter can be reached at (309) 686-3260 or starter@pjstar.com.