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Walker's Bluff vintner enjoys the farming part of the job

  • Walker's Bluff vintner Ryan Phelps explains the differences in the 20 or so wines bearing the WB label.

    Walker's Bluff vintner Ryan Phelps explains the differences in the 20 or so wines bearing the WB label.
    Holly Kee photo

  • Walker's Bluff vintner Ryan Phelps shows off two of the Walkers Bluff wines made from the "fun" part of his job, the actual growing of the grapes.

    Walker's Bluff vintner Ryan Phelps shows off two of the Walkers Bluff wines made from the "fun" part of his job, the actual growing of the grapes.
    Holly Kee photo

 
BY HOLLY KEE
hkee@localsouthernnews.com
Posted on 12/20/2019, 12:26 AM

CAMBRIA -- For Ryan Phelps, the "fun" part of his job is at hand.

"I'm a plant nerd," he said. "I love working with the grapes."

In fact, Phelps, the vintner for Walker's Bluff, said the pruning of the dormant vines will begin soon.

Phelps has been with the WB for about four years and it's a job he says he loves and one about which he is certainly knowledgeable.

Formerly the viticulture technician and instructor at Western Kentucky University, Phelps ran the vineyard there.

"We took our grapes and sold them to local wineries," he said. "I would go and help them process the grapes."

Phelps said he learned to make wine by working with the winemakers.

While California is considered the "premium" for American wines, Phelps said Illinois has made its mark on the industry as well.

He explained that the climate in Illinois makes it hard to grow the typical European-style grapes commonly used in wines like cabernet sauvignon.

"California grows those kind of grapes," he said. "The grapes we grow in southern Illinois are hybridized. Some will have those (European) grapes as parents. Others are more hearty."

Both, he says, make nice wines.

"We grow a lot of the European type grapes here," he said of Walker's Bluff. "They're harder to grow in this climate, especially with the humidity and the fungal type issues. About half of our grapes are hybrid."

Phelps said Walker's Bluff has about six acres of grapes, over half of which was replanted when he came to the winery four years ago.

"We took in about 20,000 pounds this year," he said, or about enough to make between 1,000 and 2,000 cases of wine.

"We average between two and five bottles per plant," he said.

Walker's Bluff produces about 20 different wines, generally producing dryer wines than other area vineyard.

Phelps said his personal favorite is the new petit sirah.

Phelps also enjoys pairing wines, although he says he generally advises people to "drink what like and eat what you like."

"We do a lot of events geared toward wine and food pairings," he said.

During those events, it is Phelps' job to pair a wine with the chef's chosen menu and explain the reasons behind the choice.

He said that's another fun part of the job.

"Actually, it's all pretty fun," he said, grinning as he showed off a couple bottles of his creations.

However, the "really fun" part is about to being when Phelps says he gets to go out and work in the vineyards with the plants.

"I grew up on a farm, " he said. "It's in my blood. This is my way of doing it."