I love wine. I got hooked nearly 20 years ago, when a very good friend had her wedding in California's Mendocino wine region. I fell for the entire experience...the little shops and tasting rooms, the small, family run vineyards, the stories told by owners and winemakers as they poured you a glass. And of course the wine itself, each with its own distinct personality, some sweet and some sharp - like meeting a new friend with every tasting.
But California is a haul, and I decided to find out more about all the wine that was being made right here, in our own region. The Northern Illinois Wine Trail is quite a bit larger than you may imagine encompassing more than 30 wineries and vineyards across three loops, from Galena to Lake Michigan. But my journey would hit some suburban locales, all a decent afternoon trip from anywhere in the Chicago area. Perhaps my visits will inspire you to take your own trip around our towns. Check out the entire trail, with information and links to each stop on the trail, at www.northernillinoiswinetrail.com
FIrst Stop: Prairie State Winery
217 W Main Street, Genoa Located in the rural western town of Genoa, Prairie State Winery is the oldest winery in DeKalb County, and the 16th in Illinois, started in 1998 by a pair of former teachers from Lake Park High School in Addison. This quaint spot, like its sister location in Sycamore, offers a variety of red, white and fruit wines in its tasting room, all made in Genoa. A sweet favorite, the Prairie Dog Red, is a lush treat, like a bowl of fresh picked berries in the summer sun. If you find yourself near DeKalb in the evening, Check out the Friday night Wine Downs, featuring live music, local food, trivia and more. Sundays offer creative wine cocktails, including Bloody Mary’s made with vino, and wine-based mimosas in a new outdoor wine garden.
Stop two: Acquaviva in Maple Park
47W614 Route 38, Maple Park An Italian winemaker landed in this western Kane village and proceeded to capture the hearts of local wine enthusiasts when he planted a 40-acre vineyard right on Rt. 38. Today, Acquaviva is a destination – a combination of restaurant, vineyard, winery, and future bed and breakfast. The gorgeous grounds make you forget you are just minutes from the suburban highways. Known for rich and complex wines, Acquaviva's deep reds were my favorite, boasting notes of chocolate, spice, pepper and plum for a lush combination. A popular treat, the Christmas Wine in sold year round. It's a smooth red with spices added, served warm. I can hardly wait for early fall, as it will be a great addition to an evening around the fire pit with friends. In the tasting room, you can enjoy six tastings for six dollars, or even sign up for a winery tour, called “wine 101” by appointment. Delicious cold plates are available to complement your wine selections.
Stop three: Fox Valley Winery in Oswego
5600 Route 34, Oswego Fifteen different varieties are produced at this family-run winery, much of it from grapes grown at the vineyard in Sheridan, Illinois. Owner and winemaker Mike Faltz started the winery with his father, when their homespun hobby outgrew the kitchen, the basement and the garage. The signature wines at Fox Valley are the Red, White and Blue. Red is a concord – light and grapey. White is a Moscato-style made with Niagra grapes. Blue is a fruit wine, rich with blackberry and blueberry, like liquid jam in a glass. You can enjoy three complimentary tastings in their Oswego location and a tour of the winery. I also received a lesson about boxed wine, something Mike stands by 100 percent, citing advantages over the bottle which include: no oxygen (they pour from the bottom) no sunlight, no cork (a chemical in cork can alter the taste of the wine) and a more renewable form of packaging. The result is a wine that tastes the same from the first glass to the last, open up to six weeks in the fridge (not that it would ever last that long.)
Stop four: Lynfred Winery in Roselle
15 South Roselle Road The granddaddy of suburban wine making, Lynfred Winery is a standout, the first of its kind in the area, and still one of the best wine experiences around, 35 years after opening. While original owners Lyn and Fred Koehler have since passed, their tradition of wine and hospitality continues to this day, thanks to the perseverance of award-winning Chilean winemakers and a constant following of local clientele. The tasting room, located in an old-World styled vine covered estate home, is impressive, as is the entire hardwood laden facility. Not a detail was missed, from ornate oak carvings above the wine bar, to the patron-friendly wine cellar, and the intricately decorated staterooms of its bed and breakfast. Christina Anderson took me on a tour of the whole estate, and impressed doesn’t cover it. But even more impressive is the wine. More than 100 varieties are made here, with grapes that arrive from vineyards across the nation. Tastings are $7, and they offer 8-10 wines on the tasting menu each month. Popular choices are the Vin de City Red and Vin de City White, but Christina described the winery’s fruit wines as having a “cult-like following”, available in 15 varieties, from apple to rhubarb. (The mango wine was exactly as it was described – Hawaii in a glass.) Enjoy your tasting with fruit, meats, or a delicious flatbread pizza on the wraparound porch.
Stop five: Coopers Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Naperville
1740 Freedom Drive When talking about Illinois winemaking, Cooper’s Hawk is most certainly the youngster on the trail. But don’t discount youth, or you’ll be missing out on a great wine experience. When wine lovers Tim and Dana McEnery opened the first Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant in 2005 in Orland Park, they introduced Illinois to its first and only winery and restaurant under one roof. Now the company has six Illinois locations, each a satisfying combination of Napa-style tasting room and casual contemporary restaurant. All the wine at Cooper’s Hawk is made in west suburban Countryside. A tasting includes seven to eight different wines for about $7, and offered varieties vary monthly. Three menus are offered – a standard, a sweet and a lux. Event coordinator Maddi Dill walked me through the menu, which included a velvety port called NightJar, a club-exclusive Tempranillo which was surprisingly light on the palate, and a truly delectable ice wine, a dessert all on its own. More than 50 varieties are available for sale at any given time. Stay for lunch or dinner, or just a bite in the bar, and you can enjoy the Winemaker’s Blend, a Bordeaux-style wine available only by the glass inside the restaurant. Speaking of food, Winemaker Rob Warren works in constant harmony with the executive chefs, to create wine that complements the food, and vice-versa. Each menu item comes with the perfect wine suggestion.
It's great to have such a wide array of wineries and winemakers right here in our communities, at-the-ready for an awesome afternoon away. But if you find you have a little more time, I encourage you to venture to the Northwest Loop of the Wine Trail, and experience wine tasting against the landscape of rolling hills and lush green valleys that stretch along the Mississippi. One of my personal favorites is Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery. I never had a more hospitable visit. From the tours of the vineyard and property (each step of the winemaking process is housed in a different barn on site) to the history of the land and agriculture from the knowledgeable staff, it's a homespun experience that will leave you as pleased with the charm as you are with the wine. Even better, you can pick up your favorite varieties close to home, at Galena Cellars Geneva tasting room, right along historic Third Street. Try the sangria blends, this summer, for a perfect patio indulgence.
Prairie State Winery 217 W. Main Street Genoa, IL (815) 784-4540
322 W. State Street Sycamore, IL (815) 991-5266
Acquaviva Winery 47W614 Illinois 38 Maple Park, IL (630) 365-0333
& Wine Bar
214 W. Main Street
St. Charles, IL
Fox Valley Winery 5600 Route 34 Oswego, IL (630) 554-0404
Faltz Family Vineyard 2714 N. 4251st Road Sheridan, IL
Lynfred Winery 15 South Roselle Road Roselle, IL (630) 529-9463
Tasting Rooms 127 W. Front Street Wheaton, IL (630) 752-9463
21 W Jefferson Ave. Ste. 101 Naperville, IL (630) 420-9463
971 N Milwaukee Ave
Winery & Resaurants 798 W. Algonquin Road Arlington Heights, IL (847) 981-0900
510 Village Center Drive Burr Ridge, IL (630) 887-0123
1740 Freedom Drive Naperville, IL (630) 245-8000
15690 S. Harlem Avenue Orland Park, IL (708) 633-0200
100 W. Higgins Road, Ste. V-1 South Barrington, IL (847) 836-9463
583 N. Milwaukee Ave Wheeling, IL (847) 215-1200