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Wednesday, May 21, 2008 07:30 am

The winding wine road

Sample some of the state’s best fermented grapes in the picturesque Shawnee region

Untitled Document You’ve just packed up the kids, their favorite stuffed animals, and their Game Boys and shipped them off to Grandma’s house. You’re stoked about staking out the couch, bag of pretzels in one hand and a glass of Chianti in the other. But as you start to settle in, it hits you: You’re stuck inside, hidden from sunshine and fresh air, every other day of the week. It’s time for a minivacation. Instead of heading north like everyone else, you make the roughly three-and-a-half-hour drive to a remote southern locale where wine, sunshine, cool breezes, and, yes, even pretzels abound: the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. The trail boasts 10 wineries, all within a few minutes of each other in Jackson and Union counties in southern Illinois. You can start the trail from either end or hop on somewhere in the middle, but whatever route you choose you’re guaranteed to encounter rolling hills, flora, and wildlife as you wind through the Shawnee National Forest. Alto Vineyards (Highway 127, Alto Pass) is the oldest winery in southern Illinois. Its 10-acre vineyard produces a selection of wines, from whites to blushes to reds, that have won more than 300 medals. The winery also specializes in port-style dessert wines. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Go to www.altovineyards.net for more information. Pomona Winery (2865 Hickory Ridge Rd., Pomona) specializes in fruit wines. It offers nine premium wines, including the semidry Jonathan Oak-Aged Reserve and sweet Orchard Spice apple wines and peach, strawberry, and blueberry wines. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Go to www.pomonawinery.com for more information. Owl Creek Vineyard (2655 Water Valley Rd., Cobden) produces everything from dry barrel-aged wines to sweet wines. Bald Knob, a popular award-winner, is named for both the highest point in southern Illinois and the bald pate of Owl Creek founder and trail co-founder Ted Wichmann. Open noon-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday, and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. Go to www.owlcreekvineyard.com for more information. Von Jakob Vineyard (1309 Sadler Rd., Pomona; 230 Hwy 127, Alto Pass) boasts vineyards in Pomona and orchards in Alto Pass. Known as “Little Germany,” the winery features a unique Honey Blush wine, as well as Illinois’ first white port wine. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday, 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. Go to www.vonjakobvineyard.com for more information.
Inheritance Valley Vineyards (5490 St. Rte. 127 N., Cobden) provides seven varieties of wine grapes, three varieties of seedless table grapes, and other fruits and berries. Open noon-5 p.m. Wednesday-Sunday. Go to www.inheritancevalley.com for more information. Hedman Vineyards (560 Chestnut St., Alto Pass), owned by a Sweden-born couple, produces European-style wines from its vineyards and Swedish cuisine from its Peach Barn Café. The café, a Scandinavian gift shop, and a bed & breakfast are all located in a historic three-story peach barn. Open 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. Go to www.peachbarn.com for more information. Blue Sky Vineyard (3150 S. Rocky Comfort Rd., Makanda), features a Tuscan villa surrounded by 12 acres of grapevines. Guests can rent the Tuscan sun pavilion and gazebo for special events, as well as two Old World-themed suites. Open 10 a.m.-6:30 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Friday-Saturday, and noon-7 p.m. Sunday. Go to www.blueskyvineyard.com for more information.
StarView Vineyards (5100 Winghill Rd., Cobden) produced six award-winning wines with its first harvest and has continued to medal in national and international competitions. The owners say that its homey fireplace, a large deck, and fun koi-filled ponds make StarView a prime setting for wine tasting. Open noon-5 p.m. Sunday-Friday and 10 a.m.-7 p.m. Saturday. For more information, go to www.starviewvineyards.com. Kite Hill Vineyards (83 Kite Hill Rd., Carbondale) labels itself a boutique winery. It offers seven varieties of wine, from the semidry Traminette, with its overtones of rose petal and melon, to the dry Chambourcin, bearing the flavors of plum, cherry, dark chocolate, and tobacco. Open noon-5 p.m. Friday-Monday. Go to www.kitehillvineyards.com for more information.
Orlandini Vineyard (410 Thorn Ln., Makanda), the newest member of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, is located on one of southern Illinois’ highest ridges. It offers five wines, including the sweet Vignoles, which tastes of pineapple and apricot with a touch of honey. Open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and noon-6 p.m. Sunday. Call 618-995-2307 for more information.
If you’re hoping to turn your trip into a romantic getaway, sleep over at one of 14 bed and breakfasts along the trail. Like the wineries, they exude their own charm, from the old-time farmhouse feel of the Water Valley Inn to the historic lure of the Windy Hill Acres Inn, a converted 1800s rock potato house.
Don’t get us wrong — kids are welcome in the Shawnee National Forest Area, too. In addition to the wine trail, families can enjoy eight golf courses, four riding stables, 38 historic sites, 13 museums, 21 antique shops, 14 natural outdoor attractions, and a number of recreational lakes.
For a family weekend o’ fun, you can visit the inaugural Shawnee Hills Wine Trail Wine & Arts Festival, scheduled for Memorial Day weekend at Riverside Park in Murphysboro. Adults can taste wines from all 10 trail wineries while their kids visit other food vendors, such as the 17th Street Bar & Grill, known for its world-class barbecue. Along with wine and food vendors, artisans will be at the festival, displaying blown glass, carved wine corks, hand-sculpted dolls, and other works. If your kids aren’t huge art fans, send them over to the diamond for the double-header vintage-baseball game. The Murphysboro Clarks host the St. Louis Perfectos noon-2 p.m. Saturday; the teams use the 1800s rules book and wear historically accurate uniforms.
The festival runs noon-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, May 24 and 25. Tickets are $15 at the park gate. For more information on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail and the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail Wine & Art Festival, go to www.shawneewinetrail.com.

Contact Amanda Robert at arobert@illinoistimes.com.
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