Wine and Other Wonders at Walker’s Bluff

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Cruise the scenic, winding country roads just outside Carbondale and you’ll discover Walker’s Bluff, a fairytale-like venue geared toward wine lovers, foodies and music fans alike. The story of how Walker’s Bluff came to be reads something like a fairytale, too.

Cynde Bunch and her husband, David, acquired land that had been in her family since 1934 with the intention of building a modest summer home and planting a small vineyard. They later added a gazebo on the river bluff to hold family reunions and weddings. Locals were drawn to the picturesque gazebo, where they could enjoy the beautiful rural scenery and fish the well-stocked stream. As more and more folks visited their land, consummate hosts Cynde and David came up with the idea of Walker’s Bluff, an entertainment complex that would welcome everyone.

The first phase opened in October 2009 with Legends, a fine dining restaurant with an elegant edge. Its Sunday Bluff Brunch that serves up everything from prime rib to pasta has become a popular favorite. In 2012 Legends received a prestigious Wine Spectator Award of Excellence for its impressive international wine list. Next came the General Store, an upscale gift shop/food store/deli that marks the gateway to Walker’s Bluff. Take time to browse the fun home accessories and gourmet goodies here. Then drive on to the lush green grounds, where you’ll pass the perfectly manicured vineyard on the way to the Tasting Room and its adjacent Wine Cave, which opened last April.

The Tasting Room is a stunner from the moment you enter through the huge etched glass doors. Take a seat at the antique bar handcrafted in Sienna, Italy, or retreat to the clubby nook of leather wingback chairs and relax while sipping a glass or two of vino by the fireplace. Walker’s Bluff harvested its first grape crop last year, and expects to debut its Pinot Gris wine, called Big Branch White, this summer. There is also a carefully chosen selection of vintages from around the world available for tasting. Insider Tip: Be sure to take a tour of the gothic-style Wine Cave that houses barrels of Walker’s Bluff wine. This romantic space hosts everything from weddings to intimate gatherings.

Music fans flock to Walker’s Bluff for its year round lineup of entertainment. Past performers at the grassy outdoor amphitheater have included big names such as Sheryl Crow and Montgomery Gentry. Live music is also regularly featured in the Tasting Room, which is celebrating its one-year anniversary on April 6 with a Boots & Bourbon event featuring a blend of music and bourbon tastings. On April 27, the Tasting Room will host its first-ever Studio 54 Last Dance party. The infamous New York City nightclub from the ‘70s will be recreated, and guests are encouraged to dress up as celebrities from the era. On April 13, the General Store will be the site of the Bluegrass Festival, with music and food from the Kentucky Bluegrass region.

Cynde and David have even bigger dreams for Walker’s Bluff. If all goes according to plan, in 2014 they will break ground on a hotel, spa and event center. Stay tuned for the next chapter of this Illinois fairytale.

— Margaret Doyle

Chicago-based freelance travel writer and editor at large for the Illinois Travel Guide, produced by the Illinois Office of Tourism

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