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Wine Country Weekends

Aug 01, 2016 Eat & Drink

A winemaker talks grape varietals with visitors at Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery.

Illinois is a wine lover’s paradise

Are you a wine-lover seeking the ideal autumn getaway? Look no further than Illinois wine country. Scenic trails bursting in fall colors and lined with more than 100 award-winning wineries crisscross the state, including standouts such as the southern Shawnee Hills Wine Trail and the Northern Illinois Wine Trail, which spans from the Chicago suburbs to Galena. No matter what region of the state you’re visiting in fall, you’re sure to find a top-tier vineyard close by. Be sure to also keep an eye-out for the entertaining wine festivals hosted at these locations. Here are five to try:

1. August Hill Winery (Event: Vintage Illinois)

Nestled in north Utica, August Hill Winery is home to Illinois Sparkling Co. and is a fantastic winery to visit all year round. Be sure to also mark nearby event, Vintage Illinois on your calendar. Held at scenic Matthiessen State Park, savor wines poured by more than 25 wineries from across the state, including local favorites August Hill Winery and Fox Valley Winery, known for its small lots of handcrafted wines. See performances by local musicians and nibble tasty eats from area restaurants. If you’re in the mood to do some exploring, hike over to Cascade Falls, one of Matthiessen’s most famous waterfalls.

A horse cart carrying people down a street Pouring a glass of rosé at a wine tasting at the Blue Sky vineyard in Illinois. A couple enjoying a wine tasting at one of the many vineyards in Illinois.

2. Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery (Event: Fall Harvest & Art Festival + Nouveau Wine Weekend)

Experience the essence of Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery as you take in the spectacular view of the country vineyard and learn about the wine-making process.

Be sure to also visit when their Fall Harvest and Art Festival is on. Register for the grape stomp, enjoy live music, pumpkin and face painting for kids and amazing food. While you’re out in the leafy vineyard, view the works of artisans from the Galena Cultural Arts Alliance who will conduct art demonstrations and offer pieces, such as whimsical watercolors and pottery, for sale. If you want to create a festive masterpiece of your own, try your hand at pumpkin decorating. The perfect fall day in the country.

Galena also celebrates wine in a big way during its French-inspired Nouveau Wine Weekend. A horse-drawn wagon leading a parade of revelers down Main Street heralds the start of the event, which celebrates the annual release of Galena Cellars’ Nouveau wine. Many restaurants around town pour the Nouveau at special events such as wine lunches, winemakers dinners and wine-and-cheese parties. A menu must-try is the traditional French peasant stew made with Nouveau wine. Hop on a tour that whisks wine lovers through the scenic farmlands to local rural wineries or join in the haunted pub crawl, where you’ll encounter plenty of spirits. You can also try a sip of Nouveau at the Galena Cellars Wine Tasting Room on Main Street.

3. Pheasant Hollow Winery (Event: Illinois Wine & Art Festival)

Pheasant Hollow Winery is situated on 5 acres of scenic woodlands on the eastern side of Rend Lake. On a quiet day, sit on the oversized deck with friends and sample the unique country wines. 

Celebrate the grape and fine arts at the annual Illinois Wine & Art Festival at Rend Lake in Whittington. Taste wines from regional wineries, including Pheasant Hollow Winery. Listen to the music of live bands as you check out the works of Illinois artists. Pieces on display range from jewelry to paintings and metalwork, with several artisans presenting live demos of their craft. While you're in the area be sure to sample the local fare, such as the famed white pie (a wonderfully frothy concoction sprinkled with nuts) from Burton’s Cafe and lip-smacking barbecue from Uncle Joe’s, whose All Purpose Sauce XXX Hot recently took the title of Illinois Champion in the National BBQ Sauce Competition.

A nice wine & cheese platter at Aeries Vineyard in Illinois.

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