A Guide to Wine Tasting in Illinois

What do you think of when you think of the state of Illinois?

I think of Chicago, which includes the Navy Pier, the Sears Tower (I mean, Willis Tower), the Magnificent Mile, Millennium Park, the Field Museum, and the Shedd Aquarium. The dining scene is also on point, with Volare at the top of my list every time I visit.

But do you think of wine tasting? I sure didn’t, until I tried it. I was shocked to find some of the best restaurants, vineyards, and wineries, even outside of the major metropolis.

Wine Tasting in Illinois

  1. Blue Sky Vineyard
  2. Lincoln Heritage Winery
  3. The Winery at Shale Lake
  4. Hidden Lake Winery
  5. Sleepy Creek Vineyards
  6. Von Jakob Winery & Brewery

1. Blue Sky Vineyard

blue sky vineyard
Image: blueskyvineyard

The first stop on my wine tour was Blue Sky Vineyard. Set in the small town of Makanda, Illinois, this vineyard is family-owned and operated. The owners are passionate about their wine and their community.

You can taste that passion in every sip of their wines. I tried a variety of their red and white wines and loved them all. The staff was friendly and knowledgeable, and they made me feel right at home.

Aside from the wines, the most spectacular thing about this winery is the location. It’s a gorgeous expanse of vines with tall trees lining the drive. An outdoor picnic area beckons to you from the very beginning.

The vision for this winery began in the 1990s, but the first vineyard wasn’t prepped until the fall of 2000. Jim Ewers painstakingly laid out each row in a perfect symmetry not necessary for growing grapes.

What you’ll find today is this same attention to detail in every row, bringing inner calm to the OCD in us all.

Once the grapes were in the ground, a Tuscan-style building was erected on the property, making you feel like you’re truly where the winemaking tradition first began centuries ago.

There’s so much more to this winery than grapes and a relaxing atmosphere. You can stay in the Tuscany Romance Suite, host a wedding or party, or attend any of their other events. The Paint & Sip is my personal favorite.

2. Lincoln Heritage Winery

lincoln heritage winery

Located in the small town of Cobden, Lincoln Heritage Winery is a great place to enjoy some peace and quiet while sipping on some excellent wine.

The winery has a large selection of wines, all made with Illinois-grown grapes. You can take a tour of the facility, or just relax on the patio with a glass of wine and a view of the vineyard.

Proprietors Homer and Bonnie Cissel moved to Cobden in the 1970s, and they started making wine as a hobby. In the early 1990s, they planted their first grape vines, and they opened the winery in 2001.

The Cissels focus on producing high-quality wines, and they are committed to using only Illinois-grown grapes. The vineyard is located on a slope, which provides ideal drainage and exposure to the sun.

Homer grew up in the area, and as a southern Illinois native, he’s intimately familiar with the terroir. The two have traveled countless times to Italy, Spain, France, and Germany to pursue their craft. As a result, their wines have won numerous awards and accolades.

They are more than happy to share their knowledge with anyone who is interested, and they offer a variety of classes on-site.

3. The Winery at Shale Lake

shale lake

The Winery at Shale Lake is a family-owned and operated business that features a heated wine garden overlooking a 14-acre vineyard. There’s also a cozy winter loft that makes this a great place to visit, any time of year.

When the weather is nice, you can enjoy the outdoor patio, the grove, more than 6 miles of scenic wooded wine trails, and plenty of spots to picnic.

The winery produces a variety of red and white wines, as well as a selection of fruit wines. The wines are made with grapes grown in the vineyard, and they are all processed and bottled on-site. The fruit wines are made with fruits grown in the surrounding area.

The Winery at Shale Lake is open for tastings and tours, and they also offer a variety of events throughout the year. Stay onsite in one of their cabins or cottages, dine, and play.

4. Hidden Lake Winery

hidden lake winery

If you can’t get enough of the lake, here’s another one! Hidden Lake Winery is situated on a 300-acre lake, and it’s surrounded by 500 acres of woods. So, if you’re looking for a place to get away from it all, this is the spot.

The winery has a large tasting room with floor-to-ceiling windows that offer stunning views of the lake. The property also features a vineyard, an amphitheater, and a banquet facility.

Hidden Lake Winery produces a variety of red and white wines, as well as sparkling wine and dessert wine. The wines are made with grapes grown in the on-site vineyard, and they use sustainable practices to minimize the impact on the environment.

The winery is open for tastings, tours, and events. You can also stay on-site in one of their cottages or apartments.

It’s a picturesque getaway for couples who want a romantic weekend alone, but it’s also a great place for families, with a tire swing out front and plenty of room to run.

If you love this winery, you can also order their wines online, schedule a tour, or check out all of their upcoming events. They host open mic nights, music festivals, and holiday events like a Mother’s Day Brunch.

5. Sleepy Creek Vineyards

sleepy creek vineyards
Image: sleepycreekvineyards

This is Vermilion County’s only winery, and it’s situated on a 39-acre farm that features a 700 vines.

The property includes a tasting room, an event barn, a gift shop, and plenty of scenic views you don’t want to miss. Your rustic cabin awaits, for the perfect B&W (Bed & Wine) experience.

Unwine, I mean, unwind here with a 1000-square-foot loft above the working winery. They work hard to craft unique wines from grapes grown on site, and they produce 35,000 bottles every year.

If you want to be a part of it, they welcome volunteers who are willing to work hard and learn a lot. For those who would rather relax and site see, there’s no shortage of state parks, golf clubs, and museums.

Beer lovers won’t want to miss the nearby Triptych Brewery, while families can enjoy Curtis Orchard and Pumpkin Patch. There’s so much to do that you’ll never be bored.

6. Von Jakob Winery & Brewery

von jakob winery
Image: vonjakobvineyard

I’m a sucker for a great German wine, which is why I love the Missouri wine scene so much. I never thought I’d find anything as great as the plethora of German wineries in Herman, Missouri. I thought wrong.

At Von Jakob, you can taste beer, wine, and cider all in one place. The family-owned business produces over 30,000 gallons of wine each year from 15 acres of grapes.

They also have an on-site brewery and distillery, so there’s something for everyone. Twenty acres of apples make a beautiful and functional orchard.

An onsite bed and breakfast has five fully equipped cottages for you to get away from it all. All of this is situated on the Shawnee Wine Trail, featuring 11 wineries, including Blue Sky Vineyards, Alto Vineyards, Feather Hills Vineyard, Owl Creek Vineyard, and so many more.

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