An Illinois Winery Find

A lovely rainy weekend has set in, doing wonderful things for the garden, but making it difficult to produce the usual report. This gives me an opportunity to tell more about my Labor Day weekend adventures in Illinois. Before I went, my mother told me about an article she had seen in the Springfield Journal Register about a vineyard in New Berlin, about 20 minutes away. It turned out that the place was Danenberger Family Vineyards. This is an old family farmstead the Danenbergers bought when an aunt put it up for sale a number of years ago. All around were corn and soybeans and Susan Danenberger decided to grow grapes.

Here are some of the vines near the winery's entrance, backed by corn.

Here are some of the vines near the winery’s entrance, backed by corn.

There are vineyards and wineries in Illinois, but there is always a certain amount of discussion about whether the soil is appropriate for grapes. Given it is some of the best farmland in the world, that seems to be code for an ongoing discussion about sweet versus dry. The palate of Central Illinois is not a dry one. For example, a number of years ago, my mother had picked up a bottle of apple wine by an in-state winery. It was delicious and dry with a crisp, crisp, apple-y finish. Over the next few years, it became sweeter and sweeter, so that for my family it is now undrinkable. The rest of that winery’s selections are also sweet, so this is less about soil than local market.

This ain't Napa Valley or Orange County in Virginia...

This ain’t Napa Valley or Orange County in Virginia…

Susan Danenberger is specializing in reds and their quality shows. She also has a very nice selection of whites. There are two sweet wines on the list, to which I imagine their knowledgeable tasting room staff can direct people when they receive certain reactions to the other selections. Illinois is a high tax, high regulation state, so you can’t walk in and get a tasting the way you can in Virginia, where I live, or California. You have to pay a dollar per taste. This means that you have to be judicious and depending on your capacity, you have to tell the tasting room staff just to pour enough to taste. I tasted three whites and four reds, none of the sweet wines. I bought two each of these three.


The Carmin is a Cabernet Franc, which I have had some experience with in Virginia. It is a full-bodied, intense red with lots of black cherry and a bit of pepper. Until recently, at Potomac Point Winery in Virginia, all the Cab Francs that I tasted had a bit of a rough edge. There’s nothing wrong with this; it just means it needs the right food pairing, like a pork tenderloin. The Carmin, like the Cab Franc at Potomac Point, had a much softer edge, making it enjoyable both before and during a meal.

Remember the cornfields back in July? This is how they look now--and in fact may have been harvested.

Remember the cornfields back in July? This is how they look now–and in fact may have been harvested.

The Blanc is made with a riesling grape and is semi-dry. This wine has very nice body for a white, lots of peachy fruit and a lovely mineral finish. It compares to Potomac Point’s unoaked chardonnay–the first unoaked chard I’ve bought, and I’ve tasted quite a few.

The thistles are growing vigorously in pastures.

The thistles are growing vigorously in pastures.

The Scarlet is a Petit Verdot, something Virginia wineries also produce. Danenberger’s is lighter bodied, like a good Pinot Noir, but it has all the flavor of a heavier bodied wine. If you like a peppery Pinot Noir, this wine is for you. The fruit and the spice blend in a lovely, flavorful way. Because of its light body it would be excellent with lots of food, including salmon or that Thanksgiving turkey that will be with us sooner than we think!

I also saw Jerusalem artichoke on one of my walks, competing with a sumac tree.

I also saw Jerusalem artichoke on one of my walks, competing with a sumac tree.

Prices at Danenberger are comparable to what I’m used to here in Virginia and as the wines are certainly equal to the ones I buy here, I did not find them out of line. After our tasting, my mother and I took a glass to a lovely sitting room off the winery’s kitchen and dining area where Denise Perry, a local chef, was fixing flatbread pizzas. Mom and I had flatbread, brie, and grapes to snack on.

This really hit the spot, as we didn't think we could eat a whole pizza.

This really hit the spot, as we didn’t think we could eat a whole pizza.

Other people ordered pizzas and were visited by the polite sled team that lives at the winery. It was so lovely, we want to go back this winter when the fireplace is working. Next week, I’ll get back to the fall garden!


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31 Responses to An Illinois Winery Find

  1. And now of course I’m wondering why the winery has need of a team of Huskies …….. visions of them dragging barrels of wine from here to there …… Did you know that I live not far from one of the premier wine growing regions of this country? – Supplying award winning wines globally 🙂 [Just a little teaser!] Your landscape is showing signs of summer weariness, it all looks so dry. but you are having rain and so are we. Spring is teasing us. She comes for a week and leaves, pops back for a day – and leaves again. She was here yesterday and today the wind is howling and the skies are lowering and our morning walk was not so enjoyable for one of us!


    • arlingwoman says:

      Ah, I’m sorry to hear you’re not springing into spring! We are sliding into fall, but today’s rain will help immensely. I think the Huskies are just pets and guard dogs. they were very polite and just lying around until the guy in the picture gave one of them a crust. Then they all gathered round. It was quite funny.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Sylvie G says:

    I’ll have a glass of Scarlet please 🙂


  3. You sound like an accomplished wine taster! I’m happy so many regions of this country are now blossoming with these artisan wineries, and it seems to me they are just as good, if not better than those imported from other places. The Carmin, here, sounds like it’s right up my alley….Loved seeing those cornfields too; they recalled the song “O What A Beautiful Morning”, and that line: “….the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye…”

    Liked by 1 person

    • arlingwoman says:

      I do like wine and I like hearing someone introduce it and tell how it was made and what the weather was like that year for the grapes–which played into the Cab Franc (your choice) being softer, as well as the winemaker’s preferences. It’s nice there are wineries starting in different places–Some of it is craft oriented and some is local and slow food oriented. These folks are very, very good and were a pleasure to discover. As for the corn, I love seeing it and the way the light hits it at this time of year. Lovely. Isn’t it funny how things can trigger song lyrics?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Isn’t it wonderful to be one who appreciates wines and to be surrounded by a fast-growing industry of talented, capable vintners? I feel we’re so lucky here in Virginia. And what a treat it must have been to see what the midwest was producing and to compare it to some of what you’re growing used to at home.
    The winery seemed a lovely place to while away the time and appreciate the hard efforts and labors of gardeners many miles away.
    Beautiful pictures, Lisa. Hope the trip was a restful one.


  5. danellajoy says:

    Ahhhh, I can almost taste that Scarlet. Thank you for the tour Lisa, I thoroughly enjoyed it.


  6. The Scarlet would be the one for me. Jackie would prefer sweeter white wines


  7. I enjoyed the tour, and especially liked the cornfield photo. Paying for tasting seems a bit steep. Incidentally, I love the French word for this, ‘Degustation’ – enough to put you off 🙂


  8. KerryCan says:

    Wow–what a cool visit with your mom! I’m amazed at the places where vineyards are popping up–we even have some here, in the almost frozen tundra of upstate New York! Those huskies would feel right at home up here–how cute are they?!


  9. Eliza Waters says:

    Nice review! I loved seeing the flat landscape of your homeland, so different from my forested and green, rolling hills!


  10. Mary Tang says:

    What a nice day; thanks for taking us along 🙂 I agree; dry white for me when I drink white. In Australia it’s almost impossible to buy a bad wine but many are ordinary and I’m sure some are too sweet. I think paying for tasting is not a bad idea; it would cut careless consumption and promote more informed choices. However, if they are ‘selling’ the samples that means it would go under trading laws – if the product does not match the description then the consumer is entitled to get their money back! 🙂


  11. LB says:

    Lisa, that second image makes me think of the intersection at the end of Cast Away. Nice!
    Aren’t visits to wineries fun? Always something to learn and taste and enjoy. I’d love to have tasted the Cab Franc as it’s one of my favorites!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. arlingwoman says:

    It’s so fun to have them here in Virginia and they’re an adventure everywhere! The Cab Franc was very good.


  13. Boomdeeadda says:

    Hi Lisa, remarkable descriptions of each selection, Bravo! I felt like I was listening in to a conversation between Niles and Fraser Krane, LOL Did you ever watch? They were often speaking wine. I’m partial to a Pinot Gregio on the dry, crisp side, perhaps apple’ish….see now, that’s not how one would say it 😀 Anywho, wine and doggies sounds like a fabulous mix to me. I’d have them all eating brie and toast and order another plate for more sharing. LOL, they seem very interested too. Aren’t they beautiful? I love that photo of the corn stocks. Such precision in the planting, that is one straight line of corn. Cheers my dear xK


    • arlingwoman says:

      Girl, I wish you’d been there. You think I was talking wine trash you should have heard the tasting room staff! But they were very informative, I have to say. And the dogs were giving advice as well about the best pizza to order. Not sure they were trustworthy, though.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Robin says:

    All of the wines sound delicious. I think M and I ought to get out and start exploring some of the vineyards and wines of Maryland and Virginia. We haven’t had a chance to do that yet.

    I wonder why they have sled dogs. Whatever the reason, they are beautiful.


  15. arlingwoman says:

    I don’t know where you live, but the Northern Neck of Virginia has Ingleside, which had some nice wines when I was last there. Orange County of course, is wine paradise. I don’t recommend Barboursville anymore after my last visit (overcrowded and not one wine had a finish) but Horton, Early Mountain, Potomac Point and Old House all offer some fabulous wines and good tastings. I know zip about Maryland wineries, but I bet there are some good ones! The dogs are just pets, I think and probably good guards at night out in the country.


  16. starkwe says:

    When I left Virginia, there wasn’t much to their wine except a couple of little mom & pops trying to turn it into something. I’m glad that’s working!
    We had a wonderful grape arbor up there that gave us wonderful snacks without ever having to come inside.


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