Most wine connoisseurs will know that vineyards are found in all U.S. states. Yes, even in Alaska there are wineries! So it wouldn’t come as a surprise that you can also find vineyards in the state of Illinois, despite the state’s frigid winters.
It is, however, somewhat more challenging to find a vineyard or a winery in the Chicago area, where practically all land is dedicated to suburban community sports parks or forest preserves. So it is a bit surprising to discover a great winery in Long Grove, Illinois, by the name of Valentino Vineyards.
To reach the 20-acre vineyard, you need to drive through typical suburban Chicago neighborhoods while using 2-lane streets that are full of parked cars. It couldn’t get any more suburbian, so it will definitely come as a surprise that all of a sudden, you’ll find yourself on a small country road that leads you to the relatively small vineyard.
Apart from great wines, Valentino winery offers wine seminars, vineyard tours, and wine tasting sessions. The winery is run by the owner Rudy (Rudolph) Valentino DiTommaso together with his wife Vivian and Rudy is doing most of the wine tours across the property.
As I stand close to some grape vines on a drizzly, humid, July day, I quickly notice how passionate Rudy is about winemaking. Up to the smallest details, Rudy describes how he uses French bush methods of trimming the grape vines (uniform heights, straight rows) and the different grape varieties he is using in his winery. Very interesting is how he explains what it takes to grow grapes in the very challenging weather conditions in Illinois.
Winters in the Chicago area usually get extremely cold, quite different from the smooth winters in Napa and Sonoma Valley or some other wine-growing region in America. So it comes as no surprise that many of the grape varieties used here were specifically bred to withstand temperatures up to 35 degrees below zero.
Those grapevines requiring extra protection will actually get buried beneath a mulch compost in pyramid-shaped mounds so, in winter, it’s pretty common to see these tall mounds in the shape of a pyramid all across the vineyard. The owner is also proud of the things that make his wine-producing methods stand out from most of the competition in the nation. See also this post about why Asking WHY is the most important question.
At Valentino, the vineyard and the wines are as organic as humanly possible. The use of fungicides and non-organic fertilizers is entirely avoided, though the winery is not certified organic as, for example, the milk used on the vineyard is not organic. Rudy does, however, all he can to stick as closely as he can to organically responsible growing practices.
To combat powdery mildew, the grounds with the vines are, rather unusual, sprayed with milk. Rudy mixes gallons of water with milk supplied by his local grocery store to spray the mixture all over his vines, and to fight the Japanese beetle, he uses a rather expensive organic insecticide extracted from African chrysanthemum.
During wine tours, visitors can actually not walk into or across the winery’s cellars because people may be carrying potentially harmful bacteria that can be introduced into the wines. Rudy wants his wines to be as pure and organic as possible and he also helps students learning all about organically grown grapes. This type of projects looks great on their resumes.
All of Valentino Vineyard’s wines are bottled at the winery and the winery is gravity-fed, reducing the amount of oxygen in the wine which, in turn, reduces the chances of the wines getting oxidated. It is Rudy’s goal to teach visitors how to taste wine in a proper way, how to press wine glasses to their philtrum, and how to best deeply inhale to discover and discern all the different flavor notes.
Valentino Vineyard’s wines are extremely low in sulfites. Sulfites occur in wines naturally, but there may be problems if wineries are adding too many sulfites to their wines. That, Rudy explains, may lead to severe side effects such as headaches. Many wineries are adding sulfites to their wines to prevent the growth of bacteria in the wine. They often do so in high amounts and many people won’t drink store-bought wine just because of those practices. You won’t find that in the fine wines produced at Valentino Vineyards and Winery.