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There’s no need to travel to Burgundy or Napa Valley to experience a truly authentic wine culture. Enjoy the experiences of harvest right here in southern Illinois.

Shawnee Hills Wine Trail vineyards are buzzing with excitement. The grapes are ripening and ready to be harvested and our vineyard and cellar crews are scrambling to keep up with the season. During your wine trail travels keep an eye out for our harvest crews picking fruit from the vine or listen for the sounds of a press squeezing all that sweet juice from each tiny grape.

White varietals like Niagara, Vidal and Seyval will ripen first while our red grape varieties like Chambourcin, Cabernet Franc and Norton will benefit from more time on the vine and not be harvested until September or later allowing the fruit to fully ripen and to develop those bold flavors we are known for.

There is so much excitement during harvest, but there are also a lot of travelers during the season. Please call ahead with large groups when visiting the wineries and allow us a little extra time to serve you. We want each guest in our wineries to fully enjoy their experiences. With the extra traffic in our tasting rooms we ask for patience so that we can better serve you.

Enjoy this harvest season on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail. It won’t be long before we’ll all be enjoying the fruits of our labor from the 2016 harvest season with new vintage Illinois wines. Cheers!

Harvest Season 101

The winemaking process begins in the vineyard. Grape quality is extremely important, and how the grape has been cultivated is one of the critical factors affecting the quality of wine.

Another crucial factor in developing a great wine is harvesting grapes when they are perfectly ripened. Brix and pH measurements, as well as taste, are great ways to tell when grapes are perfectly ripened.

Grapes are harvested by hand and either brought straight to our crush pad or cooled overnight. They are then put through our crusher de-stemmer, which breaks up the berries and removes the grapes from the stems. White and Blush wines are pressed immediately in our membrane press to extract juice from the berry. Red wines are fermented on the skins in open bins to extract color and tannins. They have to be “punched down” twice a day. This is called “managing the cap”.

Yeasts are added to the juice to begin the fermentation process. When fermentation begins the yeasts convert the grapes’ natural sugar into alcohol and CO2. The juice, now called “must”, ferments at controlled temperatures for approximately three weeks.

After fermentation, wine is either aged in oak barrels, or aged and fined in steel tanks. Wines stored in oak barrels will slowly accumulate smoky, vanilla, and fruity characteristics that are associated with oak barrels. Steel tanks allow the natural flavors of the wine to be enhanced.

When wine has been fined and filtered to perfection, it is then bottled. The wine is then left in the bottles to age for varying amounts of time to develop a flavor and bouquet that is typical of that particular wine.

Depending on the variety and style of wine, it can take anywhere from six months to two years before a wine is bottled and ready for consumption.