Travelers follow Jo Daviess County's sprawling fields and undulating hills toward Massbach Ridge Winery’s 18+ acre estate. Founded by the Harmston family in 2003, the winery’s proprietors select grapes grown in Jo Daviess County to concoct their batches of reds and whites. Members of the winery family escort guests on impromptu tours before rendezvousing in the tasting room or on the patio for samplings. The outdoor patio grants a heightened view of the vineyards below, which visitors can wander through on quests for vine-ripe copies of The Grapes of Wrath. In addition to its frequent tastings and tour sessions, Massbach Ridge Winery hosts a number of wine-related events each year.
It's more likely that Illinois River Winery founder and winemaker Gregg Kane is out in the field or tinkering in the wine lab than in the chair behind his desk. Thanks to his hard work, the winery's tasting room offers a selection of more than 30 varietals daily, from crisp, dry wines with vibrant acidity to wet wines known for their unique ability to quickly soak into a shirt. During warmer months, grab a glass and head out to the patio, where live music sweetly serenades sippers every Saturday and Sunday afternoon.
Each day, as the sun rises over the Illinois River Valley, light spills across Kickapoo Creek Winery's 14 acres of vineyards. Dr. David Conner originally began planting these vines in 2001. Now joined by his son, Rory, Dr. Connor creates rich, fruit-forward wines using locally sourced grapes in addition to the family's own grape harvests. Each wine brings its own melange of flavors and aromas, whether it's the tropical and citrus notes of the vignoles-seyval blanc blend or the norton's subtle spice and hints of ripe plum. The Connor family also makes wines infused with the luscious fruit flavors of everything from cranberries to peaches; and the selection of dessert wines includes bottles infused with chocolate.
Although the tasting room's samples lure many visitors, Kickapoo Creek Winery also provides guests with opportunities to explore its picturesque grounds. Walking trails can guide visitors past rows of trellised grapevines, a bubbling fountain, and even a bridge overlooking Lake Elizabeth. The grounds also include a handful of places for guests to stop and rest for a spell, such as the partially shaded Ruby Glow Garden with its miniature waterfall of grape juice.
Situated inside a renovated historical building, Northleaf Winery pays tribute to the location?s agricultural past while bottling more than a dozen wines. Fragrant samples of peppery zinfandel and floral pinot grigio are poured at the wooden tasting bar, which hosts open tastings and private pairings of wine and artisanal chocolates or cheese. Next door, the bistro and market stocks a tempting selection of Wisconsin cheeses and party trays, along with fresh salads and build-your-own grilled sandwiches with included blueprints.
A lot has changed for the Spahn family over the years. Starting out as a vineyard that strictly grew grapes for nearby wineries, Rocky Waters Vineyard?established by Jared and Phyllis Spahn in 1994?soon became much more. From their 112 acres, they now harvest 25 to create 14 varietals throughout the year. Working with guidance from local winemaker Philippe Coquard, the Spahns have crafted their own wines since 2004. They range in style from the full-bodied Homestead red to the sweet, fruity Cedar Lakes blush.
Just past the glowing sand bars of the Lower Wisconsin River Valley, 80 acres of fertile hillsides present the ideal spot for winemakers at Weggy Winery to produce their award-winning vintages. With 30 different labels, the wines range from a sweet apple-and-black-currant dessert wine to a dry, clean white traminette to a smooth, red sabrevois. The Oak Ridge red, made from Wisconsin foch grapes, recently took home a gold medal from a California wine competition and a handwritten letter from a Sheboygan-area grandma who?s convinced that bottle messages are the most efficient way to send mail.
Visitors can sample the estate-grown wine in the winery?s tasting room, a sun-drenched space overlooking the vineyard. During the summer, groups can tour the acreage in the back of a tractor-pulled tram during a one-hour guided excursion which highlights the property?s 16 acres, out of 24 total acres, of cherry, asian pear, and apple orchards, the property?s 11,000 grape vines, and the spot where aliens once stopped for a brief but memorable picnic.