DeKalb County winery puts Illinois on the map

By Connor Rice

Italy, France and Illinois.

When discussing wine, the first two are certainly locations that may jump to mind, but thanks to Prairie State Winery, 217 W. Main St. in Genoa, the state of Illinois is not an outlandish answer.

By applying the slogan “think globally, drink locally” and focusing on sustainability, the award-winning Prairie State Winery has made its mission to promote and produce wines made exclusively in Illinois.

Co-owner Rick Mamoser, who graduated from NIU in 1985 with a degree in biology and again in 1989 with a master’s, started to experiment with making wine while teaching high school at Lake Park High School in Roselle, Ill. with his wife, Maria in the late ’90s. After passing an empty storefront in Genoa during the daily commute from Kingston, Ill., the two quit teaching and opened the Prairie State Mercantile in 1998. The plan was to feature Illinois wines but also focus on other state-crafted goods like candles and cheese to keep business more diverse.

“At the time, I was making wine,” Mamoser said. “After the first six months of being open in ’98,… the wine was out-selling [everything] four to one. Everyone was interested in the wine and sampling the wine, so it really bolstered our confidence that we could start the process of opening our own winery and bottling our own wine.”

Since making the change to Prairie State Winery in 1999 after only one year of operation, the company has earned accolades from the World Wine Championships, the Beverage Testing Institute in Chicago and the Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Association, which named Mamoser its Winemaker of the Year 2011.

But the product is not the only thing sold. Prairie State Winery prides itself on its efforts to make good on “think globally, drink locally.” Using wind turbines and, of course, producing wine on-site in Genoa, Mamoser tries to bring back the “open-air market” concept, he said. He feels that goods shouldn’t have to travel great distances and waste resources to assure quality.

“The local movement really came about from transportation costs and the carbon footprint from [importing] wine from Australia … or wine from France or wine from California,” he said. “If you can buy a product locally, you’re doing that much to reduce the carbon footprint … and when you buy locally, you can see where the product is coming from.”

Throughout this venture, Prairie State Winery has set high standards for itself, and continues to push for positive business practices and quality products in the name of Illinois.

“We don’t just want to make good wine for an Illinois winery, we want to make good wine for a national winery,” he said. “We want to never be satisfied.”