Unexpected Wine Destinations

This week on The Traveling Eye was all about Unexpected Wine Destinations.

Of course the wine destinations we think of first are fantastic (California, Italy, France, etc.) and I love them but there are times when we are surprised by a destination and what it produces. Wine is sometimes that surprise.

We too were surprised by some of them.  Some we’ve been to and others we went to trusted sources like Travel & Leisure.  Here is a piece they did on Unexpected US wine Trails.  Texas, New Mexico and North Carolina are on the list.  Go figure.

More than 20 years ago I went to Hawaii.  Maui, my favorite island in Hawaii to be exact. I think it’s time for me to go back and rediscover as I am sure quiet a bit has changed since then.  I won’t digress.  On the road to Hana, we visited a little wine shop from Maui Wines.  I don’t know if they still produce it but, they used to have a Maui Blush that was on the sweet side, my taste buds were different then. The Maui Blush was similar to a white zinfandel. The one thing that was definitely an acquired taste for me was the pineapple wine.  It was too acidic for me but others that were there were fond of it.  But the biggest surprise here was that Hawaii produced wine.  There are others like Volcano Winery too on the Big Island.

On a group trip I organized to India a few years ago we stayed at the Rambagh Palace Jaipur.  Built it 1865 as the queens handmaiden guesthouse, this resort is now a Palace Hotel.  It was here that I discovered that India produced some fantastic wines.  At the bar I ordered a glass of wine and was offered one of India’s own. While I don’t remember the name of it, I remember that it was a Cab/Shiraz blend and one of India’s award winning wines.  You’ll have to trust me on this. It had a bottle sent to my client’s room and he too loved it.

Another surprise to me was Turkey.  On a familiarization trip a couple of years ago we were hosted by Marmara Hotels, a Turkish owned hotel chain.  At the Marmara Taksim in the center of Istanbul, we had dinner at their fine dining restaurant and our meal was accompanied by their own wines. AND…When retired for the evening we were presented with their own chocolates.  some of the best chocolate I’ve ever had.  Their chocolate and wine shop is in the hotel.

Below is a repost from our trip to Shawnee in southern Illinois.

Happy Trails…..

Hi Everyone!

Howard of Video Twist Productions, Ja’Vonne and I recently spent two nights and three days in Southernmost Illinois touring the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.  On day one we visited Blue Sky, Orlandini, Owl Creek and Rustle Hills Wineries and Vineyards.  With the help of tasting staff at the vineyards and our own wine expert Ja’Vonne, Howard and I were educated on the different types of wine, food that should pair with each wine, and the correct way to taste a wine. You swirl the wine in the glass, sniff the bouquet of the wine, sip and slurp, hold and swallow so the wine hits the back of the tongue and you can taste the full flavor.  There is something about tandons (not sure if it is spelled right) but I don’t understand that part yet.

It’s day two and we head over to Scandinavian Gift shop and tasting room at the Hedman Vineyards (www.peachbarn.com) Gerd and Anders Hedman opened Hedman Vineyards in 2005.

Hedman Vineyards

  They produce European-styled wines and offer Swedish cuisine in their Peach Barn Cafe. The gift shop has some great Swedish cookies and preserves. When we visit again we must try their Swedish Meatballs with a glass of wine.

Bonnie, Paul, Ja’Vonne

Next stop Alto Vineyards! In 1984 Guy Renzaglia, Ted Wichmann and others established the Alto Vineyards (www.altovineyards.com).  It is the first commercial winery in Southern Illinois. Now the Alto is run by Paul Renzaglia. Paul has been our show via phone so Ja’Vonne and I were excited to visit Alto Vineyards and meet Paul in person.  He took us out into the vineyards and explained the grapes to us.  It was HOT that day and we were past the perspiring stage and into a full sweat so we decided to head in, cool off and taste the finished products of the grapes. I tasted my first Port wine and found that I enjoyed it.  I left with a bottle of Porto Di Guido and another chapter written in my “understanding wine” handbook.

In 1997, Dr. Paul and Rhoda Jacobs opened the first Von Jakob Vineyard (www.vonjakobvineyard.com) in Pomona, Illinois.  The second location is located in Alto Pass which is where we were having lunch. Von Jakob has recently added brewery to its name as they now produce fine tasting beer. We decided to forgo the wine tasting to sample a little of their new product. When you visit, I suggest you order the cheese bread and the meatball sandwich. Real good stuff!

Ja’Vonne, George, Bonnie

Our last winery for the day was to the Pomona Winery (www.pomonawinery.com). This winery is different because it does not use any grapes to make their wine. George Majka and Jane Payne broke ground in 1989 to build Pomona Winery. They are both carpenters so they actual built the winery. Instead of dealing with planting and harvesting grapes, they decided to make their wine using fresh fruits. We spent an hour with George as we tasted wines with names like Once in a Blue Moon Blueberry Wine, Sweet Apple, Kir, and Jonathon Oak Aged Reserve.  With each wine, George would give us a recipe of how to infuse the wine in the preparation of a dish as well as drinking a glass to compliment the meal. You know I had to take the Once in a Blue Moon Blueberry Dessert Wine home with me.We waved goodbye to George and Jane and headed home to relax and prepare for out last day in Shawnee.

Day Three!

It was our last day in the Shawnee area and we had to pack the car and head over to the Star View Vineyard (www.starviewvineyard), where   we were doing our live broadcast, having lunch and of course, tasting wine before heading back home to Chicago.  Scott and Kate Sensmeire opened Star View Vineyards in 2005. Their first harvest yielded six award winning wines. They offered their vineyard to us to do our live broadcast back to Chicago and we  found the perfect place to set up, out on the patio overlooking the vineyards. It was one of the hottest days in creation but Kate told us the best way to handle the heat is by having a cool glass of wine. It was still hot but the wine was delicious. Scott brought in some grapes he had picked and kept cool.  One bunch would be red wine and the other white.  Don’t tell him, but they both looked the same to me.

It was time for us to pack up, collect all the wine we bought and head back to Chicago.  I learned so much on this trip to Southernmost Illinois. Illinois has mountains, beautiful forests, and wonderful people. All wines do not taste like Morgan David and dry red wines actually taste good. You shouldn’t leave good wine, like the award winning wines made along the Shawnee Wine Trail, in your car when it is warm, and good friendships and conversations are made over a nice glass of wine.

Thanks to Carol Hoffman and everyone at the Southernmost Illinois Tourism Bureau (www.southernmostillinois.com) for helping us plan this great road trip. I raise my glass to all the award winning wineries and vineyards along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. Thank you for your hospitality, lessons in wine enjoyment, and making my initiation into tasting and drinking wine fun.

Bonnie, Howard, Ja’Vonne – The Traveling Eye

I recommend you plan a trip down to Southernmost Illinois and introduce yourself to all the great things this area has to offer.  Illinois is an awesome state, mile after magnificent mile.

Until next time, keep your EYE to the sky!