Wineries in Illinois are relatively new. In 1985 there were only three in the entire state. Today you’ll find wineries all over Illinois, with over 100 tasting rooms, including two in Champaign County. On a recent visit to Champaign my husband and I sampled wine at both Alto Vineyards and Wyldewood Cellars tasting rooms.
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Alto Vineyards in downstate Alto Pass entered the winery business just before the 1990s winery boom, with its first vintage of grapes harvested in 1986 when only 38 acres of commercial grapes were grown in Illinois. They opened their winery in 1988 and added the Champaign tasting room in 2001. The winery today is run by second and third generation family.
In a rural area of Champaign, away from the busyness of the University of Illinois campus, the atmosphere of the Alto Vineyards tasting room was quiet and relaxed on the weekend afternoon when we visited. After tasting several wines (free tastings) and browsing the wine-related gift items, we purchased a bottle of the award-winning semi-dry Traminette. (It comes on a pretty blue bottle.)
If you prefer to visit at a more lively time, plan on a summer Saturday evening when Alto Vineyards holds concerts on the grounds.
Although the Champaign location is mainly a tasting room, a limited amount of grapes are grown there, as well.
Traveling east from the Champaign-Urbana area, we stopped at Wyldewood Cellars in St. Joseph. Wyldewood Cellars’ main location is in Mulvane, Kansas. The family-owned winery has been in business for over 20 years. Although they offer over 40 different wines, their specialty is elderberry. I would have thought elderberry wine would be heavy and sweet like so many fruit wines, but I was pleasantly surprised to find out that it comes in sweetness levels ranging from sweet to dry.
We tried several different wines (limited free tastings) and purchased a bottle of Elderberry Mead. Far different from any wine we’ve ever had, the Elderberry Mead, one of the top sellers in the St. Joseph location, is made of 75% honey and 25% elderberry.
Besides wine, Wyldewood Cellars sells elderberry products like jellies, syrups and vinegars.
The next time you’re in Champaign County, whether visiting a student at Uof I, are there for a getaway weekend or are just passing through, add a visit to one or both of the winery tasting rooms to your itinerary. The Alto Vineyards tasting room is located at 4210 N Duncan Road, Champaign, Illinois. The Wyldewood Cellars tasting room is located at 218 Lincoln Street, St. Joseph, Illinois.
Disclosure: Our visit to the Champaign area was hosted by the Champaign County CVB, but any opinions expressed in this post are my own. Our accommodations were at the Hyatt Place Champaign Hotel.
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