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Shawnee Hills Grape-Wine Association celebrates 2017

  • Representatives of more than a dozen vineyards and wineries in southern Illinois gathered Friday night at Cristaudo's in Carbondale for the Shawnee Hills Wine-Grape Association's annual dinner. Toasting the new year are Miles Maether of Hickory Ridge (left) and George Majka of Pomona (right) in the foreground, Jane Payne and Beck Schneider of Pomona (from left), and Meghann Shelato, Aurelio Hernandez and Charles Walker of Alto.

    Representatives of more than a dozen vineyards and wineries in southern Illinois gathered Friday night at Cristaudo's in Carbondale for the Shawnee Hills Wine-Grape Association's annual dinner. Toasting the new year are Miles Maether of Hickory Ridge (left) and George Majka of Pomona (right) in the foreground, Jane Payne and Beck Schneider of Pomona (from left), and Meghann Shelato, Aurelio Hernandez and Charles Walker of Alto.
    Chanda Green photo

  • Aurelio Hernendez of Alto Vineyards was honored last week with the Ted Wichmann Grape Grower of the Year Award. Pictured left to right are Scott Albert of Kite Hill Vineyards, Hernandez, and Bill McNitt of McNitt Growers.

    Aurelio Hernendez of Alto Vineyards was honored last week with the Ted Wichmann Grape Grower of the Year Award. Pictured left to right are Scott Albert of Kite Hill Vineyards, Hernandez, and Bill McNitt of McNitt Growers.
    Courtesy of Brandy Nance

 
By Chanda Green
Contributing writer
updated: 1/26/2018 5:03 PM

A group of local vintners gathered last week to celebrate all they had gained and learned during the last year of growing grapes and making and marketing wine in southern Illinois.

Cristaudo's Cafe in downtown Carbondale filled up quickly Friday night. Waiters and waitresses opened bottles of Alto Vineyards wine and filled glasses. At one of the larger tables, a group from Hickory Ridge, Pomona and Alto shared stories and toasted the new year.

Drawn together by profession and geography, members of the Shawnee Hills Grape-Wine Association are an eclectic mix of personalities, representing vineyards and wineries that rise or fall on the work of an equally eclectic mix of professionals, each passionate about his or her part of the work of perfecting the journey from grape to glass.

As stated on the association's website, "A fine wine begins in the vineyard," and in keeping with that belief, the group presents an annual award for vineyard quality and management. This year, the Ted Wichmann Grape Grower of the Year Award went to Aurelio Hernandez, vineyard manager at Alto.

The Shawnee Hills Wine-Grape Association formed in 2007, about a year after longtime local vintner Ted Wichmann wrote a successful petition to establish the Shawnee Hills American Viticultural Area, a federal designation for this unique grape-growing region, and the first such designation in the state.

"It's one of those amazing things, how people have hung in there, growing grapes and making wine in southern Illinois for 20 years or more," Wichmann said. "It's hard work, a really hard business."

Wichmann has been in the business of growing grapes and making wine in Southern Illinois for more than 30 years and has watched as technology has opened the door to a global marketplace.

"So it's even more important now, where the grapes are grown because wine is an expression of the soil and the climate of each area," he said.

He's also seen what started with a group of dreamers become a thriving wine-grape industry in southern Illinois. The smile on his face when he looked around Cristaudo's Cafe at friends and fellow vintners, old and new, was one of a proud papa. He agreed with that description.

"I see a lot of love in this room, a lot of people who have devoted a lot of time to making sure we are producing quality grapes and wines that showcase what our area has to offer," he said. "I know what kind of commitment it takes, and I'm just proud of all of us and how far we've come."

For more information on the group, visit shawneehillsava.com/shwga.