Daily Egyptian

The summer sun shines on southern Illinois wineries

By Chase Myers, @chasemyers_DE

Southern Illinois has been a grape-flavored gold mine since before the prohibition era from 1920 to 1933. 

The good weather and fertile soil located near the center of the country has allowed wineries such as Walker’s Bluff, Blue Sky Vineyard and Rustle Hill Winery to grow plenty of grapes and produce one-of-a-kind wines.

With all three of these establishments located within a 20-mile radius of the university, it is assumed their popularity diminishes as summer approaches, but this is not always the case. 

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As the seasons change, people from around the area flock to wineries to partake in events, listen to good music and drink wine.

Both Blue Sky Vineyard and Rustle Hill Winery held events this weekend with large turnouts and live music.

Rustle Hill Winery hosted the Carbondale New School “Locally Grown” fundraiser and reunion, which brought out the best of both worlds with a bouncy house and activities for the kids and live music for the adults 

“I love these days,” Chad Weedman, a manager said.  “This is my favorite event that we have in the year.  We usually have a big concert, which, unfortunately, has a bunch of grown-ups that usually get a little out of control, but this is for the kids. It’s just a great day.” 

The heat becomes a deterrent as summer progresses, but any lost business is usually made up in the fall as students come back, he said. 

“The quantity of sales when the kids are here is just way more, but in the long run, its about the same when all the grown-ups are out and they come and eat dinner,” he said.

Blue Sky Vineyard barely beat the bad weather this weekend with their luau event, bringing in a large crowd.

Karen Hand, winemaker at Blue Sky Vineyard, said she divides the typical Blue Sky crowd into thirds: students, locals and out-of-town clientele.

“We’re a little weather-dependent, but we have students in session, so April and May are very big months for us,” she said.

She said weather is a factor, but when it’s not raining, all kinds of people come out from Carbondale to Cape Girardeau, Mo.

“When busy season is the busy season, its because of the weather and people coming out just to enjoy the music and those things on the weekends,” she said. “You’ve got both business models at the same time.”

Similar to Rustle Hill Winery, the business Blue Sky Vineyard receives in the fall compensates for any lost profit in the summer, she said.

“If you’re on the wine trail, it is just packed at every winery during the fall,” she said.

Another popular winery in southern Illinois is Walker’s Bluff, a four-facility winery tucked away in the fields of Carterville.

Walker’s Bluff caters to a more local crowd, separate from students, so the business stays rather consistent, Eric Walker, manager of Walker’s Bluff’s tasting room said.

“We do get some of the student body out here,” Walker said. “Not always necessarily students, but we get people from the Carbondale area and faculty.”

Walker’s Bluff is no stranger to live music in the summer, with Pat Benatar performing last year and Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sheryl Crow and Charlie Daniels Band as past performers.

They plan to bring out at least one big-name band this summer, Walker said.

The roads to the different wineries are undeniably beautiful in the summer, whether open fields or dense forests surround them. 

Regardless of the season, southern Illinois wineries welcome people to come out and enjoy their unique facilities, while experiencing unique wine and live music in the process. 

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