Weekend Wine Tour
Story by Meredith Jackson –
With the start of warm weather, David Brummer looks forward to a favorite pastime he savors in Central Illinois — visiting area wineries.
“It’s as good a way to spend a Friday or Saturday night as there is,” he says. “You get talking and tasting wines, and the evening flies.”
Brummer, owner of Whitetail Crossing Cabins and KSI Laboratories in Shelbyville, says he’s no wine expert. But he does enjoy the winery experience and appreciates the ambience that makes each one unique.
Among those is Arpeggio, opened by the Swiney family in 2008 with two acres of grapes and a century-old barn north of Pana.
“We planted some grapes with the idea of selling them to other wineries,” says Mike Swiney. “But then we started making wine and wanted to sell it.”
After attending wine conferences and learning about the importance of a unique draw, the Swineys decided to rehab the old barn. It took a year of renovations, but when it was complete, the structure proved to be their distinctive draw.
The shape of the winery building is still reminiscent of an old barn, but its many tall windows draw in natural light and a lovely view. In fact, the building proved to be so appealing that the Swiney family made it available as an event venue.
In the colder months, visitors can relax in the loft, which features two fireplaces. In warm weather, nearly everyone heads for the deck and patio.
“People enjoy sitting out there, talking and eating their snacks and enjoying a glass of wine,” Swiney says. “We also have entertainment from time to time.”
Though Arpeggio sells cheese, crackers and sausage, visitors are welcome to bring their own food to pair with their favorite wine. And you don’t have to drink wine to enjoy Arpeggio — the winery offers other beverages, too.
Willow Ridge Vineyards & Winery
Outside of Westervelt and in the countryside of Shelbyville lies Willow Ridge Vineyards & Winery. Louie and Tina Donnel built the winery on the Donnel family sesquicentennial farm in 2007 after learning the art of winemaking. They now harvest three vineyards on about three acres, which supply the majority of the grapes used in their wines.
“People have come to know us as being very friendly and having a good selection of wines,” says manager Natalie Mentzer. “People love the ambience. The owners decorate for the seasons and provide different (entertainment) opportunities.”
Willow Ridge features weekly Friday night music during their busy season, and also hosts special events, such as mystery dinner theaters. Any time of year, visitors can enjoy the Tuscan decor and stone fireplace inside. Spring through fall, they can sit on the outside terrace or under the pergola.
To complement their wines, Willow Ridge offers sausage, crackers and cheeses, and guests also are welcome to bring their own food. Small parties require no reservations, and larger groups can rent Willow Ridge’s tasting and banquet rooms.
“I love working with (our customers), but I also enjoy getting my hands involved in the production side of things,” says Mentzer, whose background is in biology.
About twenty years ago, I picked up a wine kit for my father for Christmas and it just snowballed from there.
Niemerg Family Winery
Winemakers know production begins with choosing the right grapes for Central Illinois’ climate and soil. And the Donnels, owners of Niemerg Family Winery on Main Street in Findlay, selected six varieties through a process that combined careful consideration and trial and error. They chose well, for their red and white wines have won awards at the Illinois State Fair.
Unique in its downtown location, the Niemerg Family Winery was born from a desire to share a much-loved hobby.
“About twenty years ago, I picked up a wine kit for my father for Christmas and it just snowballed from there,” says Bill Niemerg. “We started making so much wine that by the next fall, we hooked up with some grape distributors and made wine for about six years.”
For Niemerg’s mother, Carolyn, the volume of wine was too much to keep at her house. So brothers Bill and Dan, along with their father, Don, decided it was time to purchase a new home for their wine. They found the answer in downtown Findlay.
After spending over a year gutting and renovating the interior of their historic building — exposing a beautiful tin ceiling and original brick — the doors of the Niemerg Family Winery opened in 2007. The family hasn’t stopped having fun with it since. Because the building is still only about one-third complete, they haven’t advertised. But locals know that despite its exterior curb appeal, the winery is full of character and warmth on the inside.
“It’s a very relaxed atmosphere with lots of laughing and bantering,” says Bill Niemerg. “Customers crowd around the tasting bar, and people that don’t know each other start talking.”
And they enjoy some great wine while doing so. The Niemergs might take a lighthearted approach to life, but they take their wine seriously. Business has grown enough that they’ve purchased another building down the street and plan to move production there, allowing them to expand the winery’s tasting area. They’ve also added more than one hundred craft beers to their menu.
“We’re starting to create a wine trail around here,” says Niemerg. “We love seeing people winery hopping and enjoying themselves.”
WHERE TO STAY
To fully enjoy a weekend of winery hopping, stay at one of these area locations:
Country Charm Bed & Breakfast
314 South Cedar, Shelbyville
217-774-2545 or 800-600-5352
Kaskia Woods Estate
515 N Morgan, Shelbyville
Lithia Cabin Rentals (Formally Lakeside Cabin Rentals)
Corner East Rt. 16 & 2200E
Near Lithia Springs
217-774-2882 or 866-774-2882
Our Old House
R.R. #4 Box 119, Near Lithia Springs, Shelbyville
217-774-2419 or 866-458-4442
Robin Hood Woods Resort
R.R. #3, Box 16A, East Rt. 16
The Shelby Inn
816 W. Main, Shelbyville
217-774-3991 or 800-342-9978
White Tail Crossing Cabin Village
1980 E. 1785 N. Road, Shelbyville
Wolf Creek Lodge
RR #1, Box 57B, Windsor
Meredith Jackson is a regular contributor to Decatur Magazine.
This article originally appeared in the April/May 2016 issue of Decatur Magazine.
It may not be reproduced or redistributed in whole or in part without the publisher’s consent.
© Copyright 2016 Decatur Magazine – First String Productions. All rights reserved.