Toasting Southern Illinois

Toasting Southern Illinois

Uncork a great fall getaway along southern Illinois’
Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.
By Patsy Bell Hobson

Autumn is a wonderful time to explore the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail in southern Illinois and experience international influences at several wineries. Cooler weather, amazing fall color in Shawnee National Forest, good food, charming inns and special events combine for a wonderful weekend getaway that’s within reach and your budget.


Above: Taste wines with a German influence at Von Jakob Vineyard with a location in Ponoma and Alto Pass.

In Title: Visitors can see the vineyards at most of the wineries along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, which was organized in 1995. Deborah Reinhardt Palmer photos

The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail was organized in 1995 by two regional tourism bureaus and Alto Vineyards, Ponoma Winery and Owl Creek Vineyard. The region has a federal designation as an American viticultural area.

Although 12 wineries can be found along the trail that starts just south of Murphysboro, our sampler tour is an overview of the experiences that wait for you.

A little Germany in southern Illinois

Enjoy a little slice of Germany at Von Jakob Vineyard or Von Jakob Orchard and Vineyard. Owners Paul and Rhoda Jacobs opened Von Jakob Vineyards in 1997 in Ponoma. The second location, four miles away in Alto Pass, includes orchards with more than eight acres of grapes, 10 acres of peaches and 20 acres of apples. All the grapes and fruit grown at both locations go into the production of their award-winning wines.

Taste the German influence in the semi-sweet Honey Mead series inspired by a recipe from Paul’s grandmother. The winery recently received gold and bronze awards for its Cabernet Sauvignon.

View the vineyards on a sunny autumn afternoon from one of the comfortable Adirondack deck chairs while sipping a glass of wine. Cozy up to the magnificent fireplace on cooler days. The wineries are open daily year-round. The original location, 1309 Sadler Road, is set off state Highway 127, while the orchard is at 230 state Highway 127.

Sip, sleep and sup in a barn

Savor Scandinavian-influenced wine and food at Hedman Vineyards, another Alto Pass winery. The wines are made from grapes grown in Gerd and Anders Hedman’s vineyard. This young winery that opened in 2005 has a small but excellent selection of wines.

The Peach Barn Café is in a restored barn. It’s your choice to dine inside or outside at tables that overlook the vineyard. The Swedish menu selections–including Swedish meatballs and baked wild Norwegian cod–are made to order, so there may be a wait during busy times, but the food is worth it. Browse through the gift shop filled with authentic Scandinavian art and gifts.

The Peach Barn suite is furnished in Swedish décor. Guests may have breakfast in the café, in the room or on the deck.

Hedman Vineyards is at 560 Chestnut St., set off state Highway 127. The winery is open daily year-round.

Blue Sky’s heavenly wine

Anchoring the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, Blue Sky Vineyard in Makanda is a great place to begin or end the tour while drinking in a little bit of Tuscany. An Italian-inspired menu also is available. Sip a glass of Framboise, an excellent port wine to enjoy after dinner and especially with chocolate.

James Ewers and Barrett Rochman opened Blue Sky in 2005. Visitors can enjoy an overnight here as the winery has two beautiful suites furnished with a queen-size bed, phone, mini refrigerator, and television with DVD player. Ask for a tour of the wine cellar with the winemaker when you stay at Blue Sky Monday–Friday. Live music is offered on Sundays, and the winery is open daily year-round.

Blue Sky is set far back off a main road, about 14 miles from Giant City State Park and state Highway 13. For travelers using a GPS navigation system, type in the town of Anna instead of Makanda for best results.

Kite Hill Country

Kite Hill Vineyards and Winery with its distinctive southern Illinois flavor rounds out this short tour. The winery’s Chardonel, a dry white wine, consistently sells out.

“It has a very smooth feel,” said owner Barbara Bush. “Last year, we had an abundance of grapes, more than we could possibly use. Local Amish jelly makers made our extra wine grapes into Chardonel jelly. It’s been a big hit. We sell a lot of it.”

Two lovely guestrooms are available at Kite Hill. Make reservations soon because autumn weekends book quickly. Bush gets up early so guests will always have a freshly prepared three-course breakfast and just-baked afternoon snacks.

The winery, located at 83 Kite Hill Road in Carbondale, is open during the fall from Thursday–Monday, with weekend hours from December–March; appointments may be requested for additional hours. Wine Down Fridays features local musicians and free appetizers with the purchase of wine.

The rich soil of southern Illinois lends itself to the subtleties of grape production, and the worldwide influences of the vintners add to exploration of the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail.

Patsy Bell Hobson is a contributor from Cape Girardeau, Mo.

Sept/Oct 2009 Issue


The Shawnee Hills Wine Trail Fall Festival will be Sept. 5 and 6 in Cobden and features wine, food, music, artisans and more. For more information about wineries and inns along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, visit

Visitor information is available through the Southern-most Illinois Tourism Bureau, (800) C-IT-HERE (800-248-4373) or www.southern

To visit southern Illinois and the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, first stop by your nearest AAA service office for maps, reservations, TripTiks® and TourBook® guides.

Order free information about Illinois through the Reader Service Card, found online at

Super Collector
California native and born promoter found a home for himself and extensive Superman collection in southernmost Illinois.
Overnights on the Trail
By Patsy Bell Hobson

Southernmost Illinois is home to several exceptional bed-and-breakfast inns that will make your Shawnee Hills Wine Trail experience special enough to repeat every year.

Hummingbird Hollow Bed & Breakfast (877-515-8105) is one of the most relaxing bed-and-breakfast retreats you’ll ever visit, thanks to innkeepers Dee and Harlan Browning. The inn is at 31317 McDaniel Road in Tamms, Ill. At Hummingbird Hollow, it’s just you and hundreds of butterflies and dozens of hummingbirds in a quiet hideaway retreat.

You don’t have to go to breakfast–it’s delivered to your front door. Later in the day, a fresh baked treat–such as peach or blackberry cobbler–will be delivered. The ice cream is already in your freezer. Dee will provide you with wine trail information and maps. She always knows what festivals and celebrations are going on nearby.

A fall package called “A Splash of Color” ($190 plus tax) is available Sept. 1–Oct. 31 and includes a private whirlpool bath. Sit around a campfire and enjoy the star-filled sky. There’s a full kitchen here, as well as a barbecue grill available to guests. Once you check in, you may not want to leave this paradise.

Windy Hill Acres Inn (618-893-4065, is a rock potato house that dates to the 1880s once used to store sweet potatoes by farmers waiting to ship their crop to Chicago. It was remodeled into a five-room home with a deck, and owners Bob and Carol Nebughr in 2003 opened it as an inn.

The house is in Cobden, Ill., at 830 Bell Hill Road. It has two bedrooms, a full kitchen that includes a breakfast area, living room with fireplace and a country view that makes this quiet little retreat feel like the country house of your dreams. Continental breakfast is included, and guests can bring food to prepare their meals and spend the weekend in undisturbed seclusion.

Rates are $75 plus tax per night for one bedroom or $130 plus tax per night for two bedrooms. Windy Hill Acres Inn accepts only checks or cash.

Check in to a private cabin at the Boars Nest Bed & Breakfast (800-440-4489 or 618-833-6100, in Shawnee National Forest. There are five cabins, including a honeymoon suite, and all include a private wraparound deck, full kitchenette, private bath and a Jacuzzi tub. A continental breakfast is brought to the cabin. Room rates are $85 to $125 per night plus tax. The cabins are in Cobden at 1304 Kratzinger Hollow Road.


By Deborah Reinhardt Palmer

One of the joys of travel is discovering tucked away treasures and interesting people. These opportunities are plentiful along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. On a recent two-day trip, I found two treasures that are too good to keep to myself.

Historic Bell Hill

Many residents of Cobden and surrounding small communities know about the house on Bell Hill. This lovely Southern home dates to the 1850s and has endured fire, the passing of time and owners, hard luck and plenty of good times. I wish I could speak to this house to hear the stories it might tell me.

Bell Hill’s original owner, James Bell, made a fortune in timber after the Civil War. The home’s current owner, Julia Todd, is a gracious woman originally from Kentucky who works as an interior designer and operates the inn with the help of her son, Todd Suwana. Julia and Todd live at the house, which gives an overnight here the feeling of visiting one’s favorite aunt.

There are four bedrooms, each beautifully decorated with antiques or reproductions. Yet the inn is not at all pretentious. Instead, there’s a gracious comfort offered to guests. Whenever possible, original items to the home–such as the coat hooks found in the upstairs ballroom bath–can be found in various rooms.

The ballroom suite on the third floor can accommodate a traveling group or family with ease. There’s a king-sized bed and three twin beds. Interesting items are tucked in the rafters of this floor, including remnants of a leather trapeze once used by a pet chimp kept by former owners of the house. During the Bell family’s era, the third floor was used to en-tertain guests during lavish parties.

Grant’s Suite is an elegant room for couples that includes a large bathroom with a balcony and whirlpool. Gen. Ulysses Grant stayed with the Bell family at the house. Two rooms–Miss Bell’s and Metiney’s (Julia’s daughter)–have feminine charms and private baths. The Todd Parlor, also on the second floor, is a quiet place for reading or playing cards and opens to the large balcony that has a splendid view of the valley. It’s a great escape with a bottle of local wine and a few good friends.

Walk the grounds and enjoy the gardens and vistas. Although it’s not accessible to guests, the old barn, Julia said, contains carved directions to Chicago and is believed to be a part of the Underground Railroad. A full Southern breakfast is served in the sunroom–the newer addition to the home that replaced a failing back porch. We enjoyed coffee, milk, juice, bacon, cheesy eggs, toast, fruit and chocolate chip pancakes on fine china. Julia is a lovely hostess and a joyful woman who can tell you about area shops, markets and restaurants. She operates her inn with love, care and gracious expertise.

Historic Bell Hill is on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail just off U.S. Highway 51 on Bell Hill Road. Rates are $150 per night and include the full breakfast. A sign at the entrance identifies the driveway to travelers. For more information, call (618) 697-0326 or visit

Darn Hot Peppers

With the dozen wineries, several orchards and good restaurants, the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is a great food lover’s destination. Not far from Historic Bell Hill is Rancho Bella Vista, home of Darn Hot Peppers. Gerardo and Carol Jimenez grow a variety of peppers–from jalapeno to habanero–at their farm and sell pepper spice mixes, salsas and jellies at a small store on site. Their products also are available locally in Makanda at Bill’s Country Store, as well as in Springfield and a few farmers’ markets. Items are also available to order online.

Using sustainable agricultural methods, this small business delivers big flavors. The special reserve chipotle salsa, one of the bestsellers, uses smoked jalapenos and mirasol chiles. It pairs nicely with a Sangria from one of the local wineries or a Margarita. Carol said the jellies often are used as glazes for grilled meats or in salad dressings. A note to neophytes: Watch out for the habanero honey as the sweetness is soon followed by the hot pepper’s kick. The Web site has several recipes, and there are free recipes at the store in Cobden.

Gerardo, a former state employee, and Carol, a former teacher, didn’t originally plan to spend retirement growing a pepper business. “But we’ll keep doing this as long as it’s fun,” she says.

See more of the farm, sample the products, enjoy food and music at the annual Pepperfest on Sept. 5.

Darn Hot Peppers is about three miles south of Bell Hill via U.S. Highway 51. Turn right on Vines Road off Highway 51 and the farm will be on the right (827 Vines Road). For information, call (618) 893-1443 or visit


Todd Suwana and Julia Todd welcome guests to beautiful Historic Bell Hill in Cobden. Deborah Reinhardt Palmer photo

^ to top | previous page

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.