Mark Wenzel was not expecting to see cornfields in the Champagne region of France. “I’m like, Whoa, am I in the right place?” recalls Wenzel, who has been making August Hill Winery wines in Utica, Illinois, for the past decade. But as he considered the similarities between the growing conditions in Champagne and those in his patch of land along the Illinois River, it only confirmed what he suspected: The grapes he was growing actually might lend themselves to sparkling wine as well as—or even better than—still wine. Since 2008, Wenzel has been developing sparkling wines as well as a new brand, Illinois Sparkling Co., which he unveiled in early December. The line consists of five wines: Brut (“a workhorse wine,” Wenzel says), Stereo (“a hair sweeter”), Heirloom (a sparkling rosé with “the most body to it”), Dollface (a sparkling rosé “on the sweeter side”) and Franken’s (“We’re basically letting everyone know: We are odd.”). Though inspired by Champagne, Wenzel sees the modern design of his product as more “blue-collar.” “Right off the bat you can see we’re Illinois, we’re local, we’re proud of it,” Wenzel says.
Illinois Sparkling Co. wines are $32/bottle at illinoissparklingco.com; select wines are also available by the glass at Pops for Champagne and retail at City Provisions, Lush Wine & Spirits and Fine Wine Brokers.