Sunday, March 2, 2014

Walkin' in a Winter Wine-derland

Wooo-Weee! We sure had a great time at the 2014 Winter Wine Walk in Utica, Illinois! The Saturday shindig was on February 8th, and has been takin’ place for seven years now. It definitely was a winter wine walk with temperatures dippin' lower than a well and the snow a-fallin' and a-blowin' to beat the band! Takin' lemons and makin' lemonade is somethin' we are good at. The "passport" for the event meant you’d get a souvenir glass and 10 tickets to be used on wine or food along the 12-stop route. Nothin' was gonna stop us from havin' a good time 'cuz there was plenty of wine to keep us warm! And to make the day even better, one of our young’uns – who is ‘of age’ – was along for the ride!

Mark Wenzel is the Illinois
2013 Winemaker of the Year
Imagine our surprise when we met the "2013 Illinois Winemaker of the Year", Mark Wenzel! He just happened to be at the Utica Community Center where the tickets and glasses were passed out. We were in awe to be in this hero's presence and were even more surprised that he knew who we were! Yep, that fella said, “Thelma and Louise? We were talkin’ about you last night at the Cave Dinner!” Now don’t that beat all?!

Mark and his wife, Teri, own August Hill Winery and Illinois Sparkling Company. In addition to makin’ some of our favorite wines, he took the traditional method France uses to make Champagne and brought it to Illinois to finagle sparkling wine with Illinois grapes! Their motto is, "Less CHAMPAGNE, More CHAMPAIGN", which we think is right clever! So, it makes real good sense that Mark received that prestigious award at the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association Conference at the end of January (Missin’ that event was the subject of one of our "WHINE of the Week" blogs).

The first stop was at the Mill Street Market to visit our friend, Jim Ewers, and his staff from Blue Sky Vineyard (blueskyvineyard.com). Jim grinned like the Cheshire cat when he saw us, and we were downright happy to see him, too! We sampled Shawnee Cream Sherry which was perfect for a cold, blustery day! We can’t wait to buy some for the wine fridge at home.

chocolate-shoppe.com
Louise tryin' out the
chocolate-covered bacon
The next stop was The Chocolate Shoppe. That place smelled like pure heaven and had just about anything anybody would want covered in chocolate, includin' bacon! We decided to indulge in homemade fudge, chocolate-covered coffee beans, and some of that chocolate-covered bacon before moving on out. (Note: This shop - which started at a Winter Wine Walk a few years ago - moved out of Utica this week and opened in a new location in Yorkville. 

August Hill Winery Tasting Room
was a-buzzin'!
Our Alisa Michele enjoyin'
warm AHW wine
Next, we stopped at one of our favorite tasting rooms, August Hill Winery. It was wall-to-wall people gettin' their wine on. The patio was open with heaters goin' to keep folks warm. Like we said, Mark and Teri Wenzel are the owners; they were clever and smart to have made a warm drink with their Caramel Apple wine and mulled spices to hit the spot on a cold day - it was warm in the glass and goin' down! They also had Heiland Red for tastings, and hot potato soup with bacon bits. The Wenzels and their staff sure know how to throw a shindig! To say the place was hoppin' was an understatement! (augusthillwinery.com)

We reckon these cottages look
more beautiful in warm weather
We tried something we’d heard about but never sampled - mead from Wild Blossom Meadery, Winery and Brewery (wildblossommeadery.com)! But, Thelma remembers her daddy makin' up a batch or two when she was knee-high to a grasshopper! Mead is an alcoholic beverage made by fermenting honey with yeast. Louise was brave and tried the Pirate's Blood Mead infused with 3 different chili peppers…she said it was hotter than a two-dollar pistol! Thelma had a chocolate mead that tasted like a tootsie pop in a glass! The location for the sampling was the lovely Landers House, a Bed & Breakfast that also has four individual cottages on the property (LandersHouse.com).

Illinois Cellars Winery was at Duffy's Tavern & Grill with samples of their wine. It's a good location to sit and enjoy the folks you meet, as well as enjoy the food and drink they have on their menu. (illinoiscellars.com and duffystavernandgrill.com) We bellied up to a table and dined on some juicy burgers and fries. The burgers hit the spot after so much wine samplin’.

Thelma got a little
snow on her roof!
Clark's Run Antiques (clarksrunantiques.com) was tryin' to put people in a good mood after they went walkin' through the snowfall by passin' out Hawaiian leis. Once inside, walkers wandered around the shop enjoyin' a bit of yesteryear lookin' at the antiques while samplin’ wines from Prairie State Winery (prairiestatewinery.com).

The Wine Walk folks had shuttle service provided free of charge by Starved Rock Shuttle and Tour Company (StarvedRockShuttle.com). Most places on the walk were really within walking distance. On a warmer day, without piles of snow, this may not have been necessary for most people. But in the cold and snow, it was a great option! (And no danger of drinkin’ and drivin’ – the village po-po looked like a friendly bunch, but we didn’t feel like havin’ an ‘up close and personal meet-and-greet’!)

Chateau Amour from IRW
The stop farthest away (only about 3 blocks down the main drag) was Illinois River Winery (illinoisriverwinery.com). It was a busy place, too, with people samplin' whatever wines they had available. We have friends whose favorite is Chateau Amour because it tastes like chocolate-covered cherries! Our personal favorites from IRW is their Blackberry & Blueberry blend and the Rasperry & Blueberry blend called 2 Fruits in a Bottle (ain't that name a hoot!).

Our last stop at Nonie's Bakery & Cafe was a great place for satisfying a sweet tooth. The smell of a bakery is a little bit of heaven, especially on a cold day! Tickets could be used for cinnamon rolls or scones. (www.facebook.com/pages/Nonies-Bakery-Cafe/390141894351056)

Yep, the 2014 Winter Wine Walk was one for the record books! Now officially "Thelma and Louise Approved", you better plan a road trip there for next year! We'll see you there!!

CHEERS!