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Recent drought makes fine wines for Lake County winery

Harriet Schneider (right) enjoys a glass of Lynfred Winery's Octoberfest while Betty Fox drinks a 2009 cabernet outside Lynfred's Milwaukee Avenue tasting room.  |  Ronnie Wachter/Sun-Times Media
Jennifer Peters of Chicago (left) and Richard Neufeld of Frankfort (right) sample Lynfred Winery's petite verdot while Tom Miller of Chicago (center) tries the 2010 merlot. In the racks behind them, Lynfred's Milwaukee Avenue tasting room stocks about 80 varieties. | Ronnie Wachter~Sun-Times Media

Get excited, wine lovers.

The wine grapes are already in at a local winery, and its staff reported that last year’s drought has made this an exciting time for the wine industry.

“We had the press going on a day when I happened to be down there,” said Matt Phillips of a recent trip to Lynfred Winery’s headquarters in Roselle. “It was quite tasty.”

Phillips, who manages the Lynfred location at 971 N. Milwaukee Ave. in unincorporated Lake County near Lincolnshire, got an early sample of the 2013 vignoles grapes from southwest Michigan, and is expecting more strong flavors from around the country.

This year’s growing season was marked by flash floods and a continued lack of useful precipitation — and grapes love to starve, he said.

“We like our grapes to be stressed out on the vines,” Phillips said. “From what we’re seeing, we’re getting some great quality. Our Midwestern grapes are ripening earlier than usual.”

The past two summers’ lack of consistent rain forced vines to dig deeper roots to find water, and Phillips said the extra work and lowered water volume leads to heavily concentrated flavor in the fruit. The white wines of 2012 are already out, and Phillips said the juices he’s tasted from 2013 show equal promise. Most vineyards leave their red wines in cellars longer, though, so the majority of that 2012 harvest is still aging.

Lynfred does not grow any grapes, but buys from vineyards in Michigan and around the Midwest, eastern Washington’s Columbia River valley, California’s Lodi region and outside Sacramento.

Fred and Lynn Koehler founded their winery in 1979, dropping the second “n” from Lynn’s name to make its title. Their family still operates the local wineries.

After opening two other tasting rooms around the northwest suburbs, Lynfred opened a third in 2008 at the north end of Restaurant Row, in a patch of unincorporated Lake County between Buffalo Grove, Lincolnshire and Riverwoods.

While the company has a wine-club membership of more than 6,000, Phillips said 525 of them are registered to the Milwaukee Avenue location.

Phillips said wine connoisseurs should be excited to find numerous treats as more 2012 and the new 2013 vintages are released.

“Currently, I’ve got a ton of 2012 vintage wines being released in the tasting rooms,” Phillips said.

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