Growing Wine Grapes Means Year-Round Work
Mark Lounsberry's Hill Prairie Winery contains nine acres of vines which all need to be pruned--a big job for one man.
"If I was by myself, [it would take] probably all winter," Lounsberry said. "It would take a long time to do it all by yourself."
That's why he has a crew of helpers who can bring the total time down to about a month.
The team includes guys like newcomer Tom Halberstadt, who's learning quite a bit on his first day.
"How the plant grows," Halberstadt said. "So when it comes up from winter time, spreading out, and it'll go out one way, and it'll come back the other way. It's amazing how it grows."
Gene Pence runs his own vineyard near Palmyra, so he's a little better versed in vine anatomy.
"Here's the trunk, the cordon," Pence said. "And we'll cut back to these little spurs, and usually there's two buds on a spur, and then these will eventually grow up. This spring these two will grow up, and there'll be a cluster of grapes on each spur."
He doesn't think it's unusual to be working in someone else's vineyard.
"It's a business where you need all the friends that you can get," Pence said. "You want to see this grow. You want to see the business grow. You want to see wine in Illinois be better, so it's just everybody helps everybody else out."
Managing this crop is quite a bit different than what the Lounsberrys used to grow here on the family farm.
"With corn and beans, you always raise the most that you can," Lounsberry said. "With grapes you don't do that. You manage for the quality of it. Certain varieties of vine are capable of producing different amounts and still maintain that quality. You have to learn that and know it, and prune accordingly."
That's the key to producing the best fruit to fill more than 30,000 bottles of wine per year, which is a timely process in itself.
"Sweet, fruity type of wine that people seem to enjoy here locally, those can be fairly quickly," Lounsberry said. "Three months, maybe less. Sometimes, a dry wine, especially a red one, requires aging and time before it's subtle and soft, the way you like it to be. So that might be a year and a half, two years."
But he's still glad he converted the family farm into a winery.
"'Cause I like it," Lounsberry said. "It's still agriculture, which is what I grew up doing. Just a different form of it. Just another way to skin a cat, so to speak."
Reporting in Menard County, Mike Brooks, ABC NewsChannel 20.
You can find out more about Hill Prairie Winery by clicking here.