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 an entertaining wine festival close by. Here are five to try:
Bring a blanket and set up your spot on the lush, green grass at Vintage Illinois, held at scenic Matthiessen State Park in Utica (Sept. 17–18). Savor wines poured by more than 25 wineries from across the state, including local favorites August Hill Winery, which has a line of fabulous sparkling wines produced by its Illinois Sparkling Co., and Fox Valley Winery, known for its small lots of handcrafted wines. See performances by local musicians and nibble tasty eats from area restaurants, including Starved Rock Lodge. If you’re in the mood to do some exploring, hike over to Cascade Falls, one of Matthiessen’s most famous waterfalls.
Purple feet and paintbrushes are common sights at the Fall Harvest & Art Festival, at Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery. Galena Cellars celebrates the fruits of its labor with a grape stomp, tours of its beautiful vineyards and, of course, wine tastings (try the gold medal-winning Eric the Red). 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. Or, if simply relaxing in the great outdoors is your goal, lean back on a horse-drawn wagon ride or sign up for a spa treatment. There’s also live music and great food—the perfect fall day in the country.
Celebrate the grape and fine arts at the annual Illinois Wine & Art Festival at Rend Lake in Whittington. Taste wines from 15 regional wineries, including nearby Pheasant Hollow Winery and vintners from the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Listen to the music of live bands as you check out the works of more than 40 Illinois artists. Pieces on display range from jewelry to paintings and metalwork, with several artisans presenting live demos of their craft. 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.
Head to the historic town of Palestine for the annual Wabash Valley Wine & Art Festival. Sample wines from more than a dozen Illinois wineries, including those that make up the local Wabash Valley Wine Trail. Enjoy the sounds of street musicians on Main Street (anyone is welcome to bring an instrument and busk). Browse the fine arts and crafts by regional artisans and keep a lookout for pieces by local artist Steve Meadows, whose colorful folk art can be found adorned all over town and in his art gallery. Try a variety of foods, from brick-oven pizza to pork chops-on-a-stick and even Asian cuisine. Don’t miss the classic car and motorcycle shows on Sunday. Be sure to take a tour of the 1901 Fife Opera House, which features its original painted stage scenery.
Galena 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. Or take a ride out to the source, Galena Cellars Vineyard & Winery, located not far from town in a charming country setting.