Adventures in Starved Rock Country – August Hill Winery
For those of you that know me, it won’t come as a surprise that this week we are going to take an adventure that involves wine:))
The story of August Hill Winery in Utica is one of those stories that brings a smile to my face as I have been able to witness from afar as it has flourished from its beginning in 2000. We watched how the owners, Mark & Terri Wenzel, took a piece of family farmland and launched their business with a grade school friend. Then only to watch Mark eventually quitting his job as an engineer at Caterpillar to pursue and ‘grow’ his passion of winemaking. Actually it was the Wenzels and their friends, Rick & Marie Mamoser, and myself that planned the first couple of Vintage Illinois Festivals at Starved Rock that is still enjoyed by thousands each Fall at Mathiessen State Park.
Though, we have watched and enjoyed the business for years, I continue to be amazed each time we step foot into their tasting room. They continue to expand not only their wines but their customers events. One in particular that has caught my attention (and I hope yours) is that they offer ‘Cave Tours’ at their vineyard. The next one is scheduled from Sunday, September 1st during their ‘crush’ season. Tickets include trolley ride to vineyards, tour, witness the crush, taste some wine paired with light appetizers. There are two tours 12-2:30 and 1:30-4:00. The cost is $50 per person. I would love to try and get a private event for HHO….but still working on that….
In addition, they have started to offer some other great events that I think you will all enjoy like a Cooking Class on August 15th and the list goes on. But one of the things that we truly enjoy is their relaxing back deck/patio which is a great place to bring out-of-town guests, friends and family to share a glass of wine(s) with some cheese & crackers. Often they have live music playing and the atmosphere is shaded with a garden trellis, pleasant waterfalls and once again makes you feel like you have escaped Illinois and found a winery on the back roads of Sonoma!
August Hill has recently launched Illinois Sparkling Company, which offers independent craft sparkling wines. Now remember Mark has an engineer background and became obsessed with Champagne, so when he learned that Illinois was a region primed to produce world-class sparkling wine grapes, he dove headfirst into sparkling experimentation. After years of research, trials, and some great advice from Champagne producers. The goal is to show that sparkling wines do not need to be stuffy or only enjoyed on special occasions but can be used as a refreshing treat for any occasion. May I recommend “Doll Face”!
Did I mention that you can also reach the winery by way of bike, just off the I&M Canal as well? Don’t worry I don’t think DUI’s are enforced on bikes:)) If you bike there you will have earned a “wine slushy”! (the slushy mix can be purchased to make at home and impress your friends)
Most of you have friends that visit you at your home at Heritage Harbor and I find, just like all of you, they are looking for the flavors and feelings that a small town can bring to their families. I find that sharing local products, such as August Hill or Illinois Sparkling wines, add that nice local flair. They are also great for gifts, but you really need to enjoy their tasting room and patio. Inside the tasting room you will find some unique gifts as well for you shoppers.
So now for the logistics…
Friday-Saturday: 10am – 8pm
Sunday: 11am – 5pm
Monday-Thursday: 10am – 5pm.
Their websites (including the option to receive their events and newsletters) are www.augusthillwinery.com and www.illinoissparklingco.com .
The tasting room is located in downtown Utica at 106 Mill Street.
A great topic of conversation when you are tasting is to have them provide you the history of the names of their wines, it is always fun to hear the creativity behind the artwork:)) Also learning about the ‘infused’ wines is a great tasting lesson! If you look for the August Hill or Illinois Sparkling, you will start to notice they are served in not only local restaurants in Starved Rock Country but also at Navy Pier and many restaurants in the suburbs, but I won’t tell them all to you as you can go on the hunt for them, now that you know….
And shucks, if I wasn’t at work I would have a glass :)) Salute and have a great week in Starved Rock Country!