By R. Lynne, Demand Media
Thoughts of Illinois often evoke images of Abraham Lincoln, the Chicago skyline and cornfields — not wine country. Thinking “wine country” normally calls to mind the vineyards of California’s Napa and Sonoma valleys. As wine aficionados are discovering, however, Illinois wines rank among the best, winning national and international medals. Whether you’re visiting Illinois for the day or the weekend, plan a trip south to the state’s largest wine-producing region. Enjoy a drive along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail (www.shawneewinetrail.com) and sample a glass or two at one of the 12 wineries and vineyards that dot the trail.
Step 1: Plan a route. The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail covers a 30-mile loop through Jackson and Union counties. Download a copy of the trail map from the website. Begin with Alto Vineyards (www.altovineyards.net) and sip your way along the trail to Rustle Hill Winery (www.rustlehillwinery.com), or close your eyes and pick a starting destination.
Step 2: Allocate your time. If you have one day, select a cluster of nearby wineries to visit. For example, Von Jakob Vineyard (vonjakobvineyard.com), Alto Vineyards and Hedman Vineyards (www.peachbarn.com) are located within easy driving distance of one another. If you have a three-day weekend, plan to visit three or four wineries each day. Give yourself plenty of time to sample and enjoy each vineyard’s selections. You don’t want to overwhelm your palate.
Step 3: Browse the events page on the website. While each winery is open year round, sometimes it’s more fun to visit when something’s going on. During the summer months, enjoy a tour of the vineyard, then settle back with a glass of wine to enjoy your musical entertainment of choice. The big draw is the annual three-day Fall Festival in Cobden over the Labor Day weekend. The event features two days of live music, a grape stomp, artisan exhibits and, of course, wine samples from all 12 Shawnee Hills Wine Trail wineries.
Step 4: Schedule breaks. It’s not all about the wine. Enjoy a meal at one of the restaurants located along the trail or, depending on your time frame, take a break and do some shopping. If you’re making a weekend of it, there are a variety of accommodations along the trail from hotels to bed and breakfast inns to rustic cabins.
For more information, please go to http://traveltips.usatoday.com/!