Friday, September 16, 2016

Fox Valley Winery and Vineyard

Illinois Wineries and Wine Production Progressing - Fox Valley Winery and Vineyard

Touring the Fox Valley river communities recently, we happened upon Fox Valley Winery tasting room. Illinois is not known for or thought of as a wine producing state, yet it is one of the leading agriculture producing states, mostly known for corn and beans. It has rich fertile soils that lend themselves well to specialty crops such as pumpkins, fruit trees and grapes. This is actually somewhat detrimental since wine grapes often thrive in poor rocky soils unsuitable for more rigorous crops.

The dichotomy of wine grape growing is that some of the most famous or best known wine regions actually are known for arid regions with minimal rainfall, rocky soils, and or steep mountainous or valley overlook hillsides where the little rainfalls drain well or run off.

Indeed, some of the most storied wines are named for or associated with rocky, even volcanic soils. Chateau Ducru Beaucaillou,  premier grand cru producer in Bordeaux actually translates to 'tiny pebbles', a tribute to the rock filled terrain which drains exceedingly well. Diamond Creek Vineyards, one of the premier wine producers in Napa Valley are known for vineyard designated wines with distinctly different vineyards that yield premier Cabernet Sauvignons. The famous legendary vineyards of Diamond Creek are Gravelly Meadow, Red Rock Terrace and Volcanic Hill.

Rocky vineyards of Chateauneuf du Pape
The most concentrated richest grapes are those that are starved for nutrients, especially in years starved for rainfall during the latter part of the grape growing season.

Shown left is the vineyard of Chateau Beaucastel in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape appellation of the Southern Rhone River Valley. The soil is almost completely rocky pebbles down to twelve feet deep.

Hence Illinois is challenged with it agricultural friendly climate of seasons, rainfall and rich quality soil as a wine grape producing State. Never-the-less, wine production in Illinois is growing albeit from small empirical numbers, especially in the last five years. Last year, 80 wineries farmed 200 vineyards and produced about 500,000 gallons of wine generating about $21m in revenue. The average vineyard is relatively small, about 4.6 acres on average.

Most major popular wine regions around the world are known for specific varietals of grapes that are synonymous with those regions, such as the Bordeaux varietals associated with the famous Bordeaux wine growing region - Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. The legendary Burgundy wine growing region in central France is known for or associated with Burgundy varietals Pinot Noir and Chardonnay.

Italy is famously known for growing over 500 varietals of grapes. Sangiovese is Italy's most planted red varietal, grown in the central Italian regions of Tuscany and Umbria, and others, it is the major grape of Chianti and Vino Nobile di Montepulciano, and the only variety in Brunello di Montalcino.

Nebbiolo grapes are grown in the Italian Piedmont region and is the primary grape in two of Italy’s  greatest red wines, Barolo and Barbaresco.

The old wine regions of the world are known for specific grapes as a result of decades or even centuries of learning, experimenting and fine-tuning grape production to their specific terroir - that specific essence of 'place' - terrain, climate and soil.

So it should not be a surprise the the selection of grapes in Illinois is still evolving and being refined, as producers learn what grapes grow best in their specific locales. At this time, the grapes mostly grown in Ilinois are Chardonnel, Chambourcin, Norton, Traminette and Vignobles.

Such is the backdrop of our recent visit to Fox Valley Winery in nearby Oswego, Illinois. We live near the Fox River that winds through the far western exburbs west of Chicago down to where it meets the Illinois River in north, west, central Illinois. The Fox River winds through river towns such as Elgin, St Charles, Geneva, adjacent Aurora, and Oswego, down to where it meets the Illinois River in Ottawa.

Fox Valley Winery sources grapes from 25 acres of vineyards farmed by the Faltz Family Vineyard and farm near Sheridan, IL. Their vines were first planted in March of 2000, along the south-facing rocky ledges of the Fox River Valley. They also source grapes from growers from various regions of the midwest including Southern Illinois and Southwestern Michigan - two more established and growing wine producing areas.

We had a chance to taste several Fox Valley wines in their tasting room at the winery on the western outskirts of Oswego, where they offer about thirty different wines. Their range of wines is broad, from dry whites and dry reds, off-dry to sweet whites and reds, to sweet wines and ultra sweet or fortified dessert wines.

We focused on their flagship Reserve and their Estate wines - those sourced from grapes grown in their own vineyards. I must admit, their wines exceeded my expectations which here-to-fore, have been set by Midwestern wines (with grapes sourced) from Michigan, Missouri and Indiana. These were more balanced, complex and sophisticated wines that did not succumb to the detrimental non-fruit flavors such as grass, wet wood and mustiness that too often predominate or infiltrate Midwestern wines.

Fox Valley Estate Grown Unoaked Chardonnay 2013

Light straw colored, medium light bodied, modest green apple fruit with hints of pear and wet stone with a crisp clean finish.

RM 85 points. 

Fox Valley Estate Grown Barrel Aged Chardonnay 2013

Almost indiscernible from the unoaked label, a slight oak tone may differentiate the two, but it is oh so subtle. In a blind tasting, only the most discriminating might pick up the difference.

RM 85 points.

R. A. Faltz Vintner Reserve 2011

Their flagship or signature wine, as it is named for the proprietor / winemaker. Like expensive premium wines from around the world, this wine is aged in a mix of French and American oak barrels for fourteen months. Other recent vintages were aged for ten and eighteen months respectively.

Garnet colored, medium bodied, as one might expect from red wines from this part of the country, the fruits were modest and rather subdued, especially when compared to big forward fruit bombs from some of the world's leading wine regions. However, it was surprisingly approachable, reasonably balanced, and almost bordering on sophisticated drinking, with earthy leather, tones of tobacco and hints of cedar, with impressive moderate tannins on a lingering finish.

RM 86 points.

Fox Valley Illinois Cabernet Franc 2011

Perhaps reflecting the cost of the fruit for this is sourced from 100% Illinois grown Cabernet Franc, which is one of the Bordeaux varietals, this was the most expensive wine on the list at $45.

Like the Faltz VR above, dark garnet colored, medium bodied, the fruits again were rather modest and subdued with a slight astringency turning to earthy leather, slight spice and black pepper, with moderate firm tannins on the finish.

RM 86 points.

Fox Valley Heritage Collection 2008

A blend of Cabernet Franc, Chambourcin and Corot Noir. Dark garnet colored, medium bodied, nicely balanced, modest black cherry fruit turning to earthy leather with hint of creosote on a moderate lingering tannin finish.

At around half the price of the flagship wine, and almost a third of the Cabernet Franc, this represents a more appropriate price-point and reflects reasonable value in this approachable easy drinking red sipper.

RM 84 points.