Mary Ellen Geist's Chicago Sweet Homegrown

A Local Love Story: Local Bubbly for Valentines Day


A Local Love Story: Local Bubbly for Valentines Day


So many people are jumping on the “BUY LOCAL” bandwagon for everything from meals to gifts to special events. But when it comes to big celebrations – holidays,  anniversaries, Valentines Day - is there anything close to a local champagne?


The answer: a resounding  “YES”. But there’s only one winery in Illinois that makes it. And it’s only been available since last October.


It’s called Illinois Sparkling Company. Winemaker Mark Wenzel did years of research and travelled to France to find out whether Illinois soil could grow the proper grapes for making bubbly. He discovered the area near Utica, Illinois was very similar to  conditions where Champagne grapes were grown. 

He perfected his sparkling wine  with the help of many advisors, including  Craig Cooper,General Manager of  "Pops for Champagne" in Chicago. This past October, Wenzel debuted five different kinds of the bubbly.  It can’t be called champagne for legal reasons, simply because it isn’t grown in the Champagne region of France - even though Wenzel uses the traditional champagne method of making his sparkling wine.

And it’s made with 100 percent Illinois grapes.

I tasted Illinois Sparkling Wine at Pops for Champagne  with my friend Karen Graham. She knows much more about Champagne than I do.

She liked the dry, refined taste of Franken's. I'ts a white wine made from the red grape "Chambourcin." It's similar to the French blanc de noir. 

I went for the Brut.  It’s also very dry and the bubbles are beautiful to look at in the glass. Illinois Sparkling Company calls it it's "workhorse"... because it goes with pretty much everything. 

But for Valentines Day, I think I’d chose Heirloom.,  a luscious pink-colored sparkling rose. But it isn't wussy: in fact it's very much like sipping a dry red wine. 

 Illinois Sparkling  Company offers up a total of five sparking wines. The cost : just a little over 30 bucks a bottle.

If you’re interested in going local for Valentines Day - right down to the bubbly in your champagne glass – go to,  Some places you can get it right now: go to City Provisions, Provenance, Lush Wine and Spirits, Fine Wine Brokers, Watershed Bar, Wilde and Greene, Pops for Champagne and Browntrout Restaurant. Also: very soon, Illinois Sparkling Company wines will be available at Whole Foods. There’s a tasting room at the winery as well in Utica, Illinois, just 90 miles southwest of Chicago.

And here’s to a Happy Local Valentines Day!!


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