Hard-hit Illinois vineyards, wineries try to rebound from pandemic
JACKSONVILLE — Heavily impacted by the pandemic, wineries and vineyards across Illinois are hoping to recover as warmer weather returns and restrictions loosen.
The industry faced a steep decline in revenue with crowd sizes restricted by Gov. J.B. Pritzker, causing events such as weddings and other large gatherings to be canceled.
Lisa Ellis, executive director of the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Alliance, said events are a large part of wineries and vineyards’ success.
“That is a whole line of revenue that our industry has been missing,” Ellis said. “The wineries and vineyards have long been a gathering place for life’s moments with engagements, weddings, bridal showers, birthday parties, and we’ve all been limited just like our friends in the hotel industry.”
Illinois’ wine industry employed 36,403 people and generated nearly $3 billion in economic activity in 2019, according to the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Alliance.
“We were lucky to receive support from the community, including many who took advantage of our ability to safely serve customers outdoors,” said Diane Hahn, owner of Mackinaw Valley Vineyard. “However, our events and weddings business took a significant hit, and our overall revenue was down more 50% compared to normal years.”
Sales of wine and alcohol in the state’s hospitality industry were down more than 46% in 2020 compared to 2019. There also was a drop in sales to restaurants and bars with 30% of establishments not placing new wine and beer orders since the pandemic began.
Ellis believes wineries and vineyards will need continued support to survive.
“Continued assistance from state, local and federal governments to help businesses get back on their feet is key,” Ellis said. “No new taxes would be a key component as well.”
The wine industry has expanded in recent years, going from 14 wineries in 1997 to more than 100 in 2021.
“The wine industry has found a way to adapt during the past year, and we are looking forward to welcoming customers back to our winery,” said Caroline Schrader, winemaker at City Winery in Chicago.
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