As of the new year we have moved to be able to offer bigger and better things for you. Exciting things to come. Check it out!
The Winery at Shale Lake1499 Washington Avenue Williamson, Illinois 62088 http://www.shalelake.com/
Open every weekend:
FRIDAY 4:00 to 10:00 p.m.
SATURDAY 1:00 to 10:00 p.m.
SUNDAY 1:00 to 6:00 p.m.
Location, Arrival, & Lodging:
Due to the lovely daylight savings time change, it was dark when we arrived at Shale Lake. It was a very rural drive and simple to get to with the assistance of our GPS. It seemed to be on the edge of the town of Williamson, IL. Shale Lake is also known as Mt. Olive -Staunton Coal Company Mine #2. When we drove up in the dark we were surprised to see such a large building that resembled a barn style building. We couldn’t see the vineyards that were along the side of the driveway to the winery. The sign outside as we pulled up said ”Stables” so I was a bit confused if we were at the right place. As we parked and were walking in I noticed they used corks for mulch in the landscape, I thought this was a very creative idea and this confirmed to me we were at a winery. Once we entered the wine tasting bar it seemed smaller and more of an intimate setting. We were welcomed by the guy from behind the bar which ended up being the owner/winemaker David Wesa & his wife Susan. Wine tastings were free and having the owner/winemaker was a bonus because we got more education about the wines that we were tasting. Shale Lake Winery is part of the Heartland Wine Trail. When you purchase some wine ask for your stamp on the Wine Trail Passport Booklet. There is lodging in a nearby town.
Staff and Service:
We were greeted by the owners David & Susan, who were friendly and helpful. The service was very personable and friendly. We ordered food, were offered to look around, and sit where we like. They brought the food to us and were very helpful and friendly.
The menu had a variety of choices. Our picks were the handmade pizza and brie served with a jelly sauce & honey. The food was very good and served warm.
Amenities & more:
They had a variety of areas to sit and enjoy the wine. With two sitting rooms upstairs, there was one that was an interesting tribute type room to the Beatles. Both upstairs rooms had televisions and large comfortable couches as well as other seating. As you walked down you could look through a window into the winemaking room. So while you are there it’s worth checking the rooms out. We enjoyed our wine on the enclosed sun porch.
Chrissy’s Crushes: The hospitality and knowledge of the wine and history of the place.
Winery and Wines:
Experiencing the Winery at Shale Lake was different than many of the other local wineries in this area. The owners started off looking for a location to start a winery in their retirement and ended up with about 212 acres including the lake. They offer many extra amenities like boarding horses and hiking. Then in 2007 they planted vineyards. Today they have added a wine tasting area next to the horse stables so you can see the horse stalls through the window in the tasting room. Interesting concept! The moment I entered the tasting area it brought me back to my childhood. A visual of me saddling up horses and riding when I was younger all came back to me. The smell of the horses from the neighboring room has entered the tasting room. So moving on to tasting and trying to smell the wines.
It seems all the names of wines are named after race horses like Beginner’s Luck, Snake Eyes, Triple Vine, etc. but that is not confirmed. The wines we tasted include:
Quarter Turn 2011- Red Norton, half of the grapes are grown on site and half are grown at Silver Creek. It tasted one layered (did not have a lot of depth), but had a long finish.
Decade - This 2010 Chambourcin Blend was an oaked, dry red, deep in garnet color, a heavier wine with more depth than the Norton.
Beginner’s Luck - A 2010 Chambourcin that was NOT oaked but somewhat buttery, very spicy with hints of nutmeg.
Snake Eyes 2011 – a heavy bodied white that was semi-dry and very fruit forward with hints of apple. Would go great with salads or fish.
Seventh Heaven 2011- a French American hybrid grape, white Vignoles, is light colored, fruity, crisp, sweet but not overly sweet. I enjoyed this one a lot!
Sixth Sense 2010 – The Cayuga grape has a very distinct flavor. Sixth Sense is a blended wine that is sweet. It was too sweet for me.
Spider Legs 2010 – This blueberry wine smelled FABULOUS! It tasted like a fresh blueberry. It had a little tartness. Very good!
Cloud Nine 2011 – Chambourcin usually produces a red wine but they chose NOT to ferment it on the skins therefore they created a white Chambourcin. Red wines get their color from the skins of the grapes. The result is a light flavored semi-sweet white. It lingered a bit at the finish. Very nice.
Lynn’s Wins: Decade 2010, I gave three glasses!
This week our industry suffers a loss. Dr. Matthew Bretz, a chiropractor and co-owner of Bretz Wildlife Lodge & Winery & Wildlife Cabins in Carlyle, IL, passed away on Dec. 18th, 2012. He loved big game hunting, boating, travel and wine. He will be sadly missed by all his peers, family, friends, and community. May his dream winery live on. Our condolences to his family. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.
Forsee Vineyards and Winery
18165 North 4th Avenue
Coffeen, IL 62017
Hours of Operation:
Thursday – Sunday
Noon to 10PM, year-round
Location, Arrival, & Lodging:
It’s a normal midwest drive for me to see mostly fields and not much along the interstate. So, as you wind through the country it’s a WOW moment when you pull around the corner to see this diamond in the field. The winery building has a lot of character and charm to it all alone. Then to see it sitting among a beautiful vineyard in the country was just wonderful! It was a nice surprise. There’s hotel lodging in a local town if you’re traveling from afar which I would recommend to stop in Forsee to see for yourself!
Staff and Service:
Everyone we met was very friendly. The bartender Lisa who assisted us with our wine tastings was very knowledgeable and helpful. Anything that she couldn’t answer she asked someone else who did know.
Samples were unlimited and free and if you let her know you’re likes she was kind to lead you to some great recommendations.
Currently they only offer appetizers which with the addition of a new fryer that smell was dominating the tasting area so they are in the midst of adding on again to accommodate a separate kitchen area. This should help with the smell. They seem to be expanding very nicely.
Amenities & more:
I love the fact there are so many private and secluded areas you can sit and enjoy your wine and friends. Above the wine tasting bar is a nice open loft with a variety of seating that could hold approximately 24 people and you can look out the front window over the vineyard or out the back window peeking into the wine making facility. An additional enclosed room with a large television can also be enjoyed all year long with approximately 40 friends. Lisa told us the outdoor covered deck that they enclosed with vinyl gets them through the cold months with a nice fireplace and heaters you could host a family reunion of about 90 members. When the weather is nice the multi places to sit outdoors and take it all in is a perfect winery experience in my book. Its a winery that keeps on going. Everywhere you look there is a different sitting area. Take your pick!
I can’t wait to go back!
Chrissy’s Crushes: The ambiance and setting!
Wines and Winery
It’s pretty common to go to an Illinois Winery and find certain grape wines like Norton, Chambourcin, and a blend of the two. In the whites you will find Traminette, Vignoles, and Niagra. So to find Corot Noir, a dry red, was very unusual. It is a full bodied red, lightly aged in American Oak which gave it a buttery creaminess. It tasted drier to me than the Norton even though it was only 12% alcohol. It had a very long finish meaning the taste hung on in your mouth.
The wines ran between $14.25 to $26 a bottle and $4.25 to $5 a glass. Tastings were free. The wines I chose to try were:
Norton – 2009 -$24 a bottle
It was deep ruby colored, good spice, dry as soon as it hit your mouth but had a nice finish. I enjoyed this Norton the most.
Okaw Red – $17 a bottle
Lighter strawberry colored, semi sweet red (12% alcohol), nice but I still enjoyed the peppery Norton better.
No. 76 – $15.75 a bottle
Why the number 76 for a grape name? It’s because they haven’t actually named it yet. Researcher, Bruce Reisch from Cornell University, bred the NY76 grape in 1976. It is known for its winter hardiness and productivity and is similar in characteristics of a Gewurtztraminer or Muscat according to Reisch. A contest to name it was held up until Aug. 6th and the new name will be released at the Viticulture 2013 Conference in February.
This grape is a dry white with a floral and apricot bouquet. It has a long, dry finish.
Traminette –2011- $15.75 a bottle
This semi-sweet is a medium bodied, crisp white that tingles at the end! It is very similar to a German style Riesling. I enjoyed it very much.
Vignoles – $15.75 a bottle
Even though this wine is listed as sweet I was a little surprised that it tasted a little drier than expected. I would call it a semi sweet white. This one is on a limited release so get it now!
Niagra – $14.25 a bottle
I am definitely not a Niagra fan so it forces me to try it everywhere I can only because I am looking for that one that I REALLY like! As soon as I smelled this one, I knew it was Niagra. The only way to know is by doing tastings as often as you can! To a point. Not such a good idea for breakfast though. Sorry to say I did not enjoy this one like all the rest of the Niagra grapes from around the area. They compare this grape to the white version of the Concord grape.
Lynn’s Wins: the 2009 Norton- the dry spicy flavor was nicely balanced and it is the one I ended up with a glass of so it is my win for the day!
Hidden Lake Winery
10580 Wellen Road
Aviston, IL 62216
Monday & Tuesday- 11am-5pm
Wednesday & Thursday 11am-8pm
Friday & Saturday 11am-midnight
Location, Arrival, & Lodging:
The name suits the location. As we, the Midwest Winery Gals, entered Hidden Lake Winery we discovered a beautiful hidden treasure. There are signs if you’re coming off the interstate 64 or off of the Hwy 50 that help guide you to this oasis. It is also only about 30 miles from St. Louis. If you are visiting Carlyle Lake this is just a hop, skip, and jump away at about 15 miles in Aviston, IL. It’s far enough out into the country but not difficult to find. There’s plenty of parking for all the facilities. The two buildings on the left as you enter can be rented for special occasions, weddings, etc. As you enter the silent forest you come to the main building, winery, tasting room, & restaurant. Around the lake is another smaller facility to rent for events as well. They can host a variety of events all on the same night due to the spacious layout of the winery. To help accommodate the event takers, or just the weekend getaways, they offer a variety of lodging in the eight forest cabins as well. They are well kept with jacuzzi and fireplaces so you are not roughing it at all. Ok the roughest part could be the walk from the winery to your cabin if you sample too many, otherwise it’s all very accessible.
Staff and Service:
As we entered the restaurant and tasting room the staff greeted us. After the chef seated us…hmmm… he made some recommendations for our evening dinner. Our waitress was very friendly. The owner Angie stopped to say hello and ask how things were which was very nice I thought. On our way out of the restaurant we passed the winemaker and he asked how things were. I felt they are passionate about what they are doing and want to make sure the customers are satisfied as well.
As far as appetizers they offered toasted ravioli, wings, fried onions, spinach artichoke dip and our choice was the gourmet cheese, fruit, and sausage platter which featured hearty locally produced cheeses the menu stated. Our platter had melons, cheese, crackers and sausage on it in a nice display spread. The appetizers varied in prices from $3.99-$9.99. If you’re out for something light you can pick a salad or eat off the kids menu. They offered approximately eight main entrees and pastas. My selection was the sirloin because I’m a meat and potatoes type of girl. It took up the entire oval shaped plate and was juicy and seasoned just right and served on a bed of tobasco onions. Did I mention it was 12 oz? Of course I had to take some home. My meal was $21.95 and I was able to eat for 2 days! I also have expensive taste so this was the most expensive thing on the menu where most entrees and pastas ranged from $13-$18.00. I felt I got my money’s worth and there was no room for dessert.
Amenities & more:
There is a trail that you can walk around the lake if you feel the need to stroll the woods. On a nice evening you can enjoy your wine on the large water side patio where they often have music and food available out there as well. For those cold, nasty, Midwest, winter days they have indoor seating and room for music, dancing, and more. We enjoyed the music which was performed by Roland Kreke a local talented musician who played a wide variety of music from early country to classic rock which was performed indoors on the upper balcony above the wine tasting bar. The atmosphere, people, wine, and entertainment made for a great evening. I do like to mention that they have very nice and accessible restrooms which are very important if you’re spending the evening enjoying the facilities. There’s so much to sit and enjoy at this winery so no matter what the occasion or season I recommend you check this place out!
Chrissy’s Crushes: The warm, friendly, and inviting atmosphere!
The Midwest Winery Gals enjoyed a fun evening at a local winery called Hidden Lake Winery. It really is a hidden gem out in the middle of the silent forest reserve. It is located about 5 miles from Interstate 64. Chrissy and I brought our other halves and decided to try the Barrel Room Grill for dinner and taste some wines. We started off with the whites. I tend to lean towards Seyval Blanc’s here in the local area. I was pleasantly surprised. It was delicious! After talking with the owner, Angie, we found out that the Seyval Blanc grapes are all grown here in this immediate area. This is their first wine made with completely one local grape. You can find out more about Ryan Heimann, who grew the Seyval Blanc grapes, at this link: http://midwestwinepress.com/2012/05/12/illinois-wine-grape-growers/
I spoke in depth with the winemaker, Nick who is a nephew of the owner, about the wines. He is very passionate about grape growing and winemaking. As a young winemaker he is doing everything he can to learn about the whole process of winemaking. He has evolved since I was there about 5 or 6 years ago. He was in high school then! Now, he is a businessman, winemaker, and grape grower who wants to achieve his fullest potential. I wish him the best.
Tastings are free at Hidden Lake. There is a deposit on the glass but you get that back when you return it.
The wines I tried that evening were:
Traminette – Labeled as My Best Little Pick-up Wine $13.95 btl. It has won three different awards: By the 2007 Il. Wine Competition – Bronze; 2008 San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition – Bronze; 2012 Napa NexGen Wine Competition – Silver. This white wine is a semi-sweet with apple flavors and a floral bouquet.
Riesling – Labeled as Hope Riesling $14.00 btl. This is a sweet white that had a fruity bouquet of pear. This wine would be a nice compliment with a wide variety of foods.
2012 Seyval Blanc – $14.50 btl. – dry white with grapes grown in this immediate area had wonderful aromas of citrus and grapefruit, light bodied, very smooth with a nice lingering finish.
They are most proud of their Seyval Blanc. I agree this is the best Seyval that I have tried so far.
They offered many others but one in particular I noticed was their Double Decker Red. It was a blend of Catawba and Fredonia. I was told by a different local winery that the Fredonia isn’t grown around here too much but apparently it is being picked up by more Midwest wineries. Double Decker is a semi-sweet red with hints of raspberry and cherry and has won numerous awards as well- a bronze, silver, and gold. It is a pretty popular wine at this winery.
Many other wines are on their menu like a drier Rocky Ford Red, Silent Forest Reserve, and a Marry Me Merlot. In the semi-sweets they have a Blush Zinfandel (Carpe Diem) and Kiss My Gi-zen-hime which is a Chancellor/Riesling blend and won two awards – bronze and a gold. Not a dry drinker? How about a sweet – Kaskaskia Concord otherwise known as Bucks Gone Wild, Old Hippie which is a Pink Catawba, a Spiced Applenamed Adam’s Apple after the owners son, and finally a Strawberry. All their wines run between $12.95 and $16.00.
Since we were there during October they were offering many different beers as well like Breese’s newest microbrewery beer – Excel Golden Brew, Schlafly Pale Ale & Heffewizen, three Boulevard Beers, O’Fallon Pumpkin, a couple Oktoberfest’s, Smithwicks, Warsteiner, and more.
Lynn’s Wins: Of course the Seyval Blanc was my win because it had great flavor and because the grapes are totally grown in the local area.
35 minutes from St. Louis
South of Valmeyer
We had the opportunity to visit the Fall Festival at Maeystown, IL which is a quaint, little, historic village of about 400 people built near the bluffs of the Mississippi River. It was founded in 1852 by German immigrants and still has about 60 significant structures that still exist including the original church, a stone bridge, and Zeitinger’s Mill. It looks like the settlers just carved the stone out of the bluff to create their shelters.
I was told that they use to have an event each month but have narrowed it down to three bigger festivals a year. We had the pleasure of attending the Oktoberfest which is always held the second Sunday in October from 9:00am – 5pm. People actually open up their back yard to vendors of art, crafts, and antiques. They are all set up along a stream and the cool air and beautiful fall colors of the 200 year old (plus) trees made for a very enjoyable day. They certainly were not lacking on the food options. All the organizations in town provided different treats like homemade pie! It was a wonderful experience.
The other two larger events are: The Old Fashioned German Christmas which is held the first Sunday in December which includes music, carriage rides, shopping, and more and The Springfest/Fruehlingsfest is the first Sunday of May with an antique and garden show. See how the town springs into bloom.
Believe it or not, there is lodging in this small town: Corner George Inn Bed & Breakfast which is a restored 1884 hotel and saloon. There is also a coffee house, restaurant, sweet shoppe, general store, mill and museum all in this little town! A short trip to Schorr Lake Winery, Lau Nae Winery, and Maeystown for their festival is the perfect little getaway for a couple looking for something fun to do.
Chrissy added that there was lack of parking spaces which was mostly along the sides of the streets and that you may have to climb the steep roads so wear your walking shoes.
Chrissy’s Crushes about Maeystown was the old buildings and scenic setting.
Lynn’s Wins was the beautiful brook and old bridge beside the festival.
Lau Nae Winery
1522 State Rt 3
Red Bud, IL 62278
Wed – Thursday 11am – 10pm
Friday – Saturday 11am – 11pm
Sunday 11am – 7pm
Location, Arrival, & Lodging:
Driving in Southern Illinois when the fall colors are changing is absolutely breathtaking. Good therapy all on its own, so if you add a stop at a winery that just enhances the wonderful relaxing experience. Lau Nae was easy to find since it was on the main road, Illinois Rt. 3. Even though it sits right off the road it’s far enough from the town that it lets you enjoy the country like setting with a modern touch.
Staff and Service:
The staff was nice. One girl seemed to be new and kept asking the other one who seemed overwhelmed. They were taking food orders, doing wine tastings and getting drink orders and it was a Saturday. You order your food, place wine/drink orders and do tastings all at the same bar. You get a pager so when you’re foods done you go back to the bar to pick it up. This is nice because you can sit anywhere and enjoy your food and wine. We chose the patio next to the bon fire and grape vines. As we were leaving we were greeted and thanked by the winery owner who was nice and grateful for our business.
From appetizers, pizza, salads, to BBQ they have it all. Appetizers varied from Baked Roasted Herb Bread to dips, cheese platters and more. Lynn chose the sausage and cheese platter which had a nice selection of cheeses, fruits, olives, breads and salami slices for $12.00. I indulged in the BBQ pork sandwich with sweet and sour sauce and my 2 sides of (mayo based)cole slaw and beans YUM. The pork was tender and seasoned just right all for only $9.00. There was so much I could only eat half of it all. So go hungary and thirsty they can fulfill the hunger!
Amenities & more:
As you enter the winery it’s lined with grapevines which you are encouraged to sample the grapes, so of course we did and I loved it! Lau Nae could host a few events at a time with two indoor banquet areas besides the tasting room with additional seating, the front porch and patio with fire pits. It is a great place to hold a small wedding, party, or social gathering. They offer special catering packages, party, wedding, and or reception packages. They can also customize a wine label for any special occasion. The entire place seemed to have been updated recently and was very warm and inviting no matter where you chose to enjoy the day or evening.
Chrissy’s Crushes: The grapevines that you could sample right off of. YUM!
Winery & Wines:
Lau Nae was established in 1999 and was the 17th winery in the State of Illinois. It was handed down to Matt Mollett by his parents in 2007. They grow many of the grapes themselves – Chardonel, Niagra, Concord, Chambourcin, Marechal Foch, Catawba… They had many wines that they offered but only certain ones could be tasted so depending on when you visit Lau Nae Winery you might be able to taste different wines. You did have the option to purchase any bottle they offered and consume it there. My understanding is that they have a wine club and the winemaker is always looking at blending juices and trying to create new wines like for example, “The Octopus”. I think he was running out of names!!!
As Chrissy said we sat on the patio next to the grapevines and of course we had to try them. They were Concord grapes and I couldn’t stop eating them. The darker purple ones were tart and the reddish ones were sweeter and they each had different amount of seeds in them. Overall the prices were good and the food was very good.
The wines I tasted:
Sauvignon Blanc – $14 a bottle, was light, crisp, refreshing, medium finish. Very good. I enjoyed this one but had better.
Seyval Blanc/Riesling – $13.50 a bottle, white that smelled like bubble gum! Yummy.
Cabernet Franc – ruby colored, peppery, spicy, black currants, tannic, long finish. It was a little spicy and tannic for me but others would certainly enjoy it.
Pride – $14.75 a bottle, blend of Chambourcin, Syrah, Dolcetto, very well balanced, lighter, medium finish 13.5% alcohol. This is the one I enjoyed the most and got a bottle of to take home.
Wines that Chrissy tasted:
Due to them having a large selection of wine there was something to accommodate almost any pallet. She tasted the:
Geisenheim -$13.50 btl. – a semi-sweet white, crisp, citrus tasting wine from the Foch grape.
Traminette – $13.50 btl. -which I’m a fan of anyway- a semi sweet white.
Lynn’s Wins: The Pride – it was lighter and very nicely balanced. This is the glass I chose for the evening.
Other nearby lodging was in Red Bud. We stayed at:
Red Bud Country Inn
1617 South Main Street
Red Bud, IL 62278
Red Bud is about 40 miles from St. Louis. The Getaway Gals decided to stay nearby after trying wine. Smart move because we could enjoy ourselves a little more. The stay at Red Bud Country Suites was excellent. The cost was about $76 with tax for a king size bed suite. Not bad. The room was very clean and comfortable. They even had a frig and microwave in the room. It stormed that evening but I didn’t hardly hear anything and slept like a baby!
Chrissy wanted to add that the owner, Ray, was very accommodating when she said we would be checking in late. The next morning he called one of our rooms to make sure we got the continental breakfast and he was helpful to point out some local places to dine. She felt the place was clean and safe.
We would stay there again without a doubt.