I recently had the pleasure of experiencing a winery in southern Illinois. It was by chance that Kathy Lee & Hoda were filiming a wine tasting segment in thier studio. It began with Hoda and Kathie commenting that Americans “are drinking France under the table!”, then went on to introduce Alpana Singh (master sommelier). As she began the tasting, Alpana acknowledged how Americans typically think of Napa Valley when they think of U.S. wine but added that today’s tasting will focus on wines from “really fun places – starting with the state of Illinois.” The tasting began with a white selection from Illinois and moved through the other selections – and both Kathie Lee and Hoda picked the Illinois wine as their favorite!
Kathie Lee and Hoda moved onto the red wines, and as they tasted the Illinois selection, Alpana says “We have 90 wineries in Illinois – I’d love to invite you to one of them if you ever visit!” After tasting all of the red wines, Hoda selected the Illinois red wine as her favorite too! (Kathie Lee picked Virginia.) Alpana ends the segment with an encouragement to “drink local” and to plan trips to nearby wineries.
I had the pleasure of visiting the winery that Kathy Lee & Hoda chose as the best white. The wine came from Blue Sky Winery, located in the eastern end of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. They have a large indoor seating area and two outdoor terraces overlooking the vineyard and the rolling countryside. It was like a slice of Italy in Illinois. It truly was an unexpected pleasure; this is just one of many wineries along the Shawnee Wine Trail. Definitely worth a visit!
If you don’t have time to make it down to Southern Illinois, here are a few wine festivals where you can sample Illinois wines in one location:
October 1 -2
9th Annual Wabash Valley
Wine & Art Festival
110 S Main Street
Palestine, IL 62481
The festival will offer wine tasting and sales from nine Illinois wineries, original artwork and handcrafted items, great food, free live entertainment all weekend. Festival hours are Saturday, Oct. 1, 11:00am to 7:00pm and Sunday, Oct. 2, 12:00pm to 5:00pm. Advance tasting tickets are $11.00 or $15.00 day of the event. For more information go online to www.wabashvalleywineandartfestival.com
November 18 – 19
Nouveau Wine Weekend
Galena Convention Center
900 Galena Square Drive
Galena restaurants join in the celebration Nov. 18 & 19 with wine‐inspired lunch and dinner specials. A Grand Tasting, Saturday, Nov. 19, 3:30‐6 pm at the Galena Convention Center, 900 Galena Square Drive; $30 per person (in advance); $35 at the door, based on availability. Lodging, shopping and spa specials available throughout the weekend, for more information go online to www.nouveauweekend.com.
Let us know which Illinois wine was your favorite.
On the north side of Altamont stands a brick mansion that has solidly withstood the test of time, and remains to this day a marvel of architecture. Few today would consider ‘indoor plumbing’ an extravagant affair, but in 1889, when the house was constructed, it was practically unheard of.
Dr. Charles W. Wright had built a house on the property where the current mansion stands in 1874 and in 1889, Dr. Wright decided a new house was in order. They moved the original house across the street, where it still stands, and construction of the new property commenced.
A building contractor from Toledo, Il, Charles Hanker, was hired and the new, 6000 square foot home was constructed in just under a year, at a cost of the then whopping sum of $35,000. The Second Empire style home has patterned slate shingles on the roof, seven bedrooms and yes, believe it or not, a bathroom! A bathroom…just imagine, indoor plumbing, such an extravagance! The water was pumped from the well in the yard, up to a lead lined water tank in the attic, where gravity pulled the water down into the plumbing fixtures. Every bedroom had a marble capped sink, with hot and cold taps. The single bathroom (on the first floor) had a bathtub, sink and yes, after 1930, even a flush toilet.
Heating for the house was provided by a coal fired boiler in the basement, with hot steam heat being pushed up the two floors of the house to cast iron radiators in each room. Gas lighting was also installed in the house, being fueled by the vapors produced by high test gasoline contained in a tank in the yard. Most of the lighting has since been replaced by electric lights, but one of the two, a light on the king post of the main stairway, still stands, powered now by electricity.
Dr. Wright passed the property on to his son, Dr Charls Wright II, another Doctor, who lived from 1879-1970 and eventually the house was passed on to the third Charles Wright, a lawyer, who had it from 1970-2001. Upon his death, Charles Wright III left the home in a trust and it is now a Not For Profit public institution and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (86001018). Donations are greatly appreciated to help defray the cost of operating the facility.
The home is so well maintained that, in general, it looks like the Wright family still lives there. It’s unique in that, unlike many other legacy properties, the original furnishings have remained with the house. To see the actual chairs, beds and tables that the Wrights used day to day adds a whole new dimension to the experience of viewing the house. The amount of collectibles, trinkets, books, statuary and other accoutrements contained in the bookcases and shelves is staggering. It’s rumored that there are over 7000 books in the residence!
Tours of the house are available by appointment, and are open to the public on Sundays from 2:00 – 4:00 PM with special events in the fall and winter. Check the Wright Home website for details and current hours.
Yes, there is Illinois shrimp!
Whether you call them shrimp or prawns, by any name one of Southern Illinois’ hidden gems is its shrimp industry. The variety of shrimp raised in Southern Illinois is Freshwater Prawn. Grover Webb, who raises freshwater prawns at his farm near Golconda, said the locally grown variety are fresher, healthier and taste better than wild shrimp.
Main Street Golconda will host the annual Shrimp Festival September 17, 2011. The day begins at 7:00 am with the Farmers Market. Lots of fresh local produce and a large assortment of craft and novelty vendors set up on the Pope County Court House lawn. At 10:00 am the Helicopter Rides, Buggy Rides and inflatable games for the younger set began. All of our major food vendors are required to have at least 1 domestic shrimp dish. However you will find a vast assortment of food available from fajitas to alligator on a stick and the reason for this event, locally grown prawn will be sold. Beer and Wine garden opens at 10:00 am with a selection of Southern Illinois Wine Trail wines for your tasting and purchasing pleasure.
Musical entertainment begins at noon with Southern Illinois own Travis Pearcy & Friends. Then at 3:00 pm the Little Miss Shrimp Festival Pageant will be held on the Court House Lawn. Head 1st will be playing on the stage at 3:30 pm. Followed at 7:00 pm to 10:00 pm by Lew Jetton & 61 South a local blues favorite.