Quality wine remains the focus even as Kane, the winery’s founding winemaker, explores expanding his wine distribution from five to eight states.
“If you do nothing else right, it has to be good quality wine,” Kane says of the wine industry.
To the best of Kane’s knowledge, Illinois River remains the only Illinois winery with out-of-state distributors. He has even turned down orders from distributors so quality is maintained as demand grows.
“It’s very easy to take the order; but to have to produce and distribute, that’s another story,” says Kane, who grew up on farm near La Harpe in Hancock County. “We’re trying to manage our growth 100 percent through distribution.”
Gregg Kane of Illinois River Winery displays his unique seasonal wines at his Utica wine tasting room. (Photo by Cyndi Cook)
Today, distributors account for 90 percent of the winery’s business with its Utica tasting room contributing 10 percent. Ten years ago, all profits were made from tasting-room sales.
Kane grows enough grapes to produce 90 percent of his grape wines. He buys the rest of the grapes and fruit on the market, trying to purchase as much fruit as possible in Illinois.
With 100 wineries, Illinois now boasts a mature wine industry that produces world-class white and red wines, says Kane, a director on the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association Board of Directors.
As the quality of Illinois wines gains reputation, interest in the state’s wines is expected to continue growing across the state and the country. The Illinois Restaurant Association plans to serve only Illinois River wines at its annual banquet.
Growth in the state’s grape and wine industries is a bright spot in Illinois’ economy, Kane notes. Interest in locally grown foods also is boosting interest in local wines, particularly among younger customers, he adds.
“The more Illinois wines on Illinois store shelves, the more money kept in Illinois and paying Illinois’ salaries,” he says.
Illinois River Winery