Along the curving back roads and rolling hills of Caledonia sits a 285-acre farm that has been a part of the same family’s legacy for more than 160 years.
McEachran Homestead Estate was settled in 1857 by John McEachran, the great-great-grandfather of Herbert Greenlee, the current owner. Old John immigrated to northern Illinois from Scotland and settled in what was known then as the Argyle Scottish Settlement. The McEachran Homestead is officially recognized by the State of Illinois as a Sesquicentennial Farm, one that has been held by descendants of the same family for 150 years or more.
The original farm was 160 acres, with corn and soybeans as the main crops. But the focus of our visit were the 11 acres dedicated to 19 varieties of grapes, raspberries, and fruit trees, all of which are meticulously tended, then hand-crafted into cold-climate grape and fruit wines.
Today Greenlee, a retired physician who remains affectionately known as “Doc” to all who work there, oversees all that goes on at his family farm with the enthusiasm of a young entrepreneur, despite his 90 years. He and his gracious team invited us to take a look at all that goes into making the delicious wine at McEachran Homestead Winery.
As mentioned previously, the farm was primarily in the business of corn and soybeans for most of its existence. Doc grew up on the farm, and lives there still.
Fruit trees and grapevines were used to forge a smaller end of the business, jams and jellies and pies for sale at area farmer’s markets. But about seven years ago, Doc decided to take the 11 acres bearing McEachran fruit in a new direction, and begin bottling wine.
Sue Sohner remembers it well. A former science teacher at Winnebago High School, she hadn’t any direct experience making wine. But now, she applies her scientific knowledge to fermentation of fruit and sugars.
“I didn’t go into farming with the idea of making wine. That was Doc’s idea,” she says. “I was sort of forced to learn. We had been growing table grapes and jam grapes for farmer’s markets.”
Now, Sue successfully creates 19 varieties of small-batch wines available at certain times throughout the year, including St. Pepin, La Crescent, Duke of Argyle, Frontenac, Edelweiss, Steuben, Ae Fond Kiss, Blueberry, Red Raspberry, Maréchal Foch, Concord, and more. Seasonal wines such as Strawberry-Rhubarb, Cherry, Peach, Cranberry, Red and Black Raspberry.
Most have limited availability, so when they are gone, they’re gone. McEachran fans follow social media for updates and notices of when certain varieties come available for sale.
“We make as much as we can manage,” she says. “Sixty-five or seventy-five cases at a time.”
Some of the most popular varieties have included the Duke of Argyle, a red blend named for the Scottish tax collector, and the Marquette, a velvety, semi-sweet red, that is delicious warm and is recommended as great base for a mulled wine.
One fall favorite is a 100 percent fruit wine, the Triple Berry Blend – made with blueberries and blackberries and raspberries from the farm – which was due to be released at the end of September.
If you visit, you can try out whatever is on hand in the tasting room, perhaps with a more-than-satisfying cheese and fruit tray (easily enough for four people.)
For something extra special, gather up your friends and enjoy a tour of the homestead on a wagon pulled by an antique tractor. Doc will join you on the ride, and share stories as you you enjoy acres of old oak trees, vineyard and berry patches. At least six people are needed for the ride, and you must call ahead to reserve, but cost is just $7 per person, for a priceless experience at this local treasure.
In the meantime, enjoy a glass, and keep your eye out for Doc as he buzzes around the acreage in a scooter, checking in with staff and helping where he can – washing towels, offering advice, and of course, tasting the wine.
Since we already found ourselves on a lovely sun-filled drive amongst the farms and vineyards of the northern Illinois Wine Trail, we thought we’d extend our journey to visit several more locations.
McEachran Homestead Winery
1917 Wyman School Road, Caledonia, IL
Mondays-Thursdays 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Fridays 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Saturdays 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Sundays noon-5 p.m.
DC Estate Winery
8877 State Line Road, South Beloit, IL
Just a two-minute drive from McEachran Homestead is the DC Estate Winery in South Beloit.
In its third summer of operation, the two-acre vineyard is the basis of a variety of delicious wines, combined carefully with grapes from Michigan, and fresh fruits such as peaches, berries and cherries.
Favorites from this family owned and operated winery include two autumn wines – the Peach Honey and the cranberry – both of which can be served warmed, with a touch of cinnamon. Also, the winery features a different recipe of sangria weekly, which can be purchased by the glass in the tasting room. Strawberry Kiwi was tapped while we were visiting. Made with DC’s blush wine, it was a light and delicious, easy drinking blend, perfect for an afternoon on the patio.
DC is also a great place for socializing, and public events are offered regularly. Check out the website for information on paint and sip classes, live music, and murder mystery dinners.
515 S Main Street, Galena (tasting room)
4746 N Ford Road, Galena (vineyard and winery)
477 S Third Street, Geneva (tasting room)
Jo Davies County is a hotbed of winemaking in Northern Illinois, and Galena Cellars is one of the better known, with a vineyard in rural Galena, a tasting room downtown, and yet another location in far west suburban Geneva. A family endeavor, the brother sister team of Scott and Christine Lawlor have been running the operation since 1985. From 5,000 gallons the first year, to a working vineyard and winery facility producing 50,000 gallons today, Galena Cellars is best known for its General’s Red and White blends, and its signature Oktoberfest wine, a German-style, semi-dry white white blend. But new varieties are coming out regularly. Popular additions to the menu have included the Honey Mead, a favorite among beer drinkers, and the new “Secret Garden Collection” three new wines for 2017. And if you stop by the tasting room looking for something different to tickle your taste buds, try a hot shot, which is a shot of jalapeno-infused white wine with a splash of Tabasco. Or a white wine Bloody Mary on Sundays.
Wine your way through Illinois
There are plenty of great wineries and vineyards across the region! Create your own tour and visit some of the other spots along the Northern Illinois Wine Trail! Visit www.northernillinoiswinetrail.com for links to specific locations, event listings and more.
• Chicagoland Loop
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurant
Glunz Family Winery & Cellar
Tasting deVine Cellars
Valentino Vineyards & Winery
Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery
• Fox River Valley Loop
August Hill Winery
Fox Valley Winery
Illinois River Winery
Prairie On State Wine Cellars
Prairie State Winery
Ristorante di Acquaviva
Waterman Winery & Vineyards
• Northwest Loop
Creekside Vineyard Wine Terrace & Inn
Creekside Vineyard Winery & Tasting Room
DC Estate Winery
Famous Fossil Vineyard & Winery
Fergedaboudit Vineyard & Winery
Galena Cellars Tasting Room
Galena Cellars Vineyard
Lavender Crest Winery
Massbach Ridge Winery
Rocky Waters Vineyard & Winery
Silver Moon Winery