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August 31, 1999

Ryan Tours Vinyards To Promote Illinois' Growing Wine Industry

COBDEN - Governor George H. Ryan today sampled the wines of the Owl Creek Vinyard to showcase the growing number of vinyards and wineries in Illinois - a rejuvenated industry that is drawing tourists into Illinois.

"The state's grapegrowers and wine makers do more than just fill bottles with many different wines, such as Vidal Blancs, Chardonnels and Chancellors," Ryan said. "Illinois' wineries are quickly becoming tourist magnets for families who like to combine leisurely drives through the prairie with wine sampling at various vinyards. We hope that in the near future more tourists will discover Illinois while sampling our wines, just as they explore California's Napa Valley."

To boost the wine-making industry, Ryan earlier this month signed House Bill 1909, which allocates $500,000 annually from the state's tourism fund to the Grape and Wine Resources Council. The Council's job is to help promote and expand wine making, grape growing and related industries and businesses throughout the state.

In 1990, there were only five wineries in the state. Currently there are 17 wineries and within the next three years, the total is expected to reach 25.

Within the next 10 years, tourism experts predict that Illinois wineries will create more than 1,300 jobs and generate $60 million in economic activity. Illinois wineries produce more than 200 million gallons of wine each year and the state ranks fifth nationally in the number of bottles consumed.

The $500,000 allocation to the Grape and Wine Resources Council will help coordinate the marketing of wine and related products, support laboratory work at the University of Illinois and hire viticulturalist who will provide technical assistance to existing wine makers and those who want to enter the field.

Wine making in Illinois stretches back to 1830 when the first vinyards were planted around Galena and in Western Illinois. Before prohibition, Illinois was the fourth largest producer of grapes in the nation and was responsible for almost 25 percent of the domestic wine produced in the United States.

"Legislators from around Illinois agreed this spring that the wine industry can do a lot for tourism, for agriculture and for our hospitality industry," Ryan added. "Our hope is that this new law will help draw people to Owl Creek and other vinyards throughout the state to try our wines and hopefully they'll take more than a few bottles home with them to share with friends and family."

House Bill 1909 was sponsored by state representatives Kathleen "Kay" Wojcik, R-Schaumburg; Mike Bost, R-Carbondale; Larry Woolard, D-Marion; Jim Fowler, D-Harrisburg; Dan Reitz, D-Sparta; John Jones, R-Mount Vernon; and Ron Lawfer, R-Freeport. The Senate sponsors were state senators Dave Luechtefeld, R-Okawville and Jim Rea, D-Christopher.


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