© 2024 Peoria Public Radio
A joint service of Bradley University and Illinois State University
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

How the Heart of Illinois Wine Trail may become a new central Illinois agritourism draw

Mackinaw Valley Vineyard

As the name implies, the new Heart of Illinois Wine Trail leads straight through the center of the state. Vintners hope the tourists will follow.

Brad Beam, owner of Spoon River Junction Winery in Canton, said the timing makes sense to bring the nine wineries together in a coordinated effort.

"It's a short jump, or hop, skip and jump, from one to the other. And so from our perspective, a trail really means it's a collective voice, a vision, and a marketing push to let people in our region know what we're all about, which is locally grown grapes, high quality wine production, and a really great time," he said.

Participating wineries include the Mackinaw Valley Vineyard Winery, Tres Rojas in Washington, Spoon River Junction Winery in Canton, Old Mill Vineyard and Bent Tree in Metamora, the Big Horse Winery and Native Trails Winery (both in Lewistown), the Hidden Hills Winery in Knoxville, Hill Prairie Winery in Oakford, and West of Wise in Petersburg.

"It's a nice loop. It's something local people can maybe think okay, this this weekend, I might visit the Peoria-Bloomington ones. Next weekend, go to the Springfield area. Next weekend, go up to hit the Canton kind of area, and then maybe check out Hidden Hills on the way to Galesburg. So it's a nice, you know, it's not a hard trip," said Diane Hahn, owner of Mackinaw Valley Vineyard Winery.

Hahn said the trail also lends itself to attracting people from the Chicago or St. Louis areas who frequent wineries in Missouri or Michigan.

She said the wineries work in conjunction with business groups like the Peoria Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, Bloomington-Normal Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, and the Galesburg Area Chamber of Commerce.

"There's a lot of excitement, I think about us trying to say, hey, we're out there, we've got this trip we can recommend and, you know, each of us can make an introduction to hopefully new people," said Hahn.

Bottles of wine from Washington's Tres Rojas Winery.
Tres Rojas
Bottles of wine from Washington's Tres Rojas Winery.

Lisa Barry of Tres Rojas Winery in Washington said the wine trail could also have broader tourism impacts.

"I would say that each of our locations is in a community or a city that has some really cool eatery options and small boutiques and even places to stay if people are going to make a short or long weekend out of the whole experience," Barry said.

Beam agreed, citing the successful marketing push by the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in Southern Illinois, in particular.

"The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail has been a strong economic driver for that community, which is largely rural," he said. "And I think it's been a big boon to that Southern Illinois area. So we're hoping that we can do the same thing for Central Illinois."

Beam said those wineries have similar but individual wine styles, and it made sense for them to connect. It's a similar dynamic in Central Illinois, said Barry.

Hahn said the grapes grown for wine in Central Illinois have to be able to survive colder temperatures. That means cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays aren't among the locally-produced wine fare.

"We will try to educate them and just say 'hey, we have a grape that's similar. We blended these grapes and it comes out very similar in taste.' And educating the public is a big part of this Wine Trail, too," Hahn said. "Agritourism is a huge thing. And that's part of this is, you know, educating people on what's local."

A bottle of Forgottonia vermouth from Spoon River Junction Winery in Canton.
Spoon River Junction Winery

Hahn said the Heart of Illinois Wine Trail is working on some events and creating some merchandise. A passport with a reward like a wine glass for visiting all the wineries might also be a concept to consider, she said.

"I always look at the wineries like an affordable luxury. And with travel being so expensive, a lot of people are curtailing long car trips, or even plane flights," she said. "We're a good value to just hop in your car and drive an hour. Any which way and find one of these wineries or even two or three wineries near each other and have a really fun day and enjoy it."

Hahn said running a winery is an all-in business where the owner "puts their heart on the table."

Barry and her husband know all about that first-hand.

"We ended up in this profession because we love wine. And we would make those day trips and we would hit a winery here, hit a winery there. Next thing you know, we're looking for wineries when we're out on vacation, then our vacations turned into going to wineries and then lo and behold, we end up with a winery," said Barry. "So you gotta be careful."

Full disclosure: Diane Hahn is a member of the WCBU Community Advisory Board, which has no role in editorial decisions.

Updated: February 23, 2023 at 3:58 PM CST
A previous version of this article inadvertently left out the Old Mill Vineyard and Bent Tree in Metamora.
Tim is the News Director at WCBU Peoria Public Radio.