Tangled white stars were majestically revealed against the backdrop of an inky night sky.
It was a riveting display of nature. Shooting starts gracefully entered their final descent, the Milky Way stretched its creamy arms across the sky and constellations were pieced together like a giant puzzle.
It was a spectacle that locked my eyes on the sky all night and as a prelude to the brilliance of Galena that revealed itself yet again on a spectacular fall weekend.
Pouring rain couldn’t slow the celebration at Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery.
It was damp and windy on Sept. 28, but the Fall Harvest and Arts Festival was undeterred. Galena Cellars General Manager Scott Lawlor welcomed patrons as they walked in. Winemaker Chris Lawlor discussed the drought-plagued vintages that turned out great fruit in 2011 and 2012. The 2013 growing season was off to a late start; vines battled to reach water after two straight dry years and yields were down.
Yet, as Chris Lawlor manned the tasting bar in the vineyard barn filled with music from an acoustic guitarist, the winemaking artist in her relished the opportunity to put her unique imprint on another vintage.
Artist Sandra Principie held the blue tarp doors to her tent in the vineyard closed to shield her pieces from the pesky rain. Scenes from Galena and Hawaii filled out her portfolio. The warm colors from her paintings and passion to capture the beauty of the surrounding landscape were palpable.
Also in full embrace of the artisan-themed weekend was Chef Randy Hoppman. The executive chef at Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa captured the freshness of the farm and lake and brought them to the table.
With 26 years of experience, Hoppman crafted a dynamic seasonal menu. The Garlic Caprese Flatbread with Balsamic and Kalamata olives shined at a lunch visit to Spikes Bar and Grill. The Iowa Bison Burger for dinner at the Woodlands Resort Lounge cooked to a perfect rare was an experience.
The bison had a silky texture and was dressed with corn-cob smoked bacon. The bacon came from Rochelle and the bison was sourced from a farm in Iowa, about 30 minutes from Eagle Ridge, which continued the resort’s commitment to local products.
“We’ve had an herb garden for about eight years,” Hoppman said. “Oregano takes over. We don’t buy oregano all year. We have thyme, dill, chives, sage; you name it we do it. Even things out of the ordinary, we do it and play around with them. You’ll see a chef walk outside with a pan and pair of scissors to cut fresh herbs for the night’s dinner.”
Attention to detail filtered its way to the wine list at Eagle Ridge as well. Sea Smoke, Pinot Noir Southing, 2009, was delectable with the velvety bison burger.
From the gala event that is Wine Lover’s Weekend, to local events where residents gather to pick wild morel mushrooms or eat fresh-caught fish that Hoppman has expertly prepared, the experience is always sure to be memorable.
“We had 50 local property owners sign up,” said Eagle Ridge Director of Food and Beverage Rick Remmington about the morel harvest event. “There was a $10 fee that went to a charity to refurbish a local schoolhouse. At another event, we caught a couple hundred bluegills at the lake. (We) cleaned them and set up portable cooking stations and cooked out for about 50 property owners.”
Where to go
Eagle Ridge Resort and Spa
444 Eagle Ridge Drive, Galena
When I circumnavigate Horseshoe Mound on Route 20, I feel at ease. Enter Eagle Ridge through a back road as a sweeping meadow unfurls into rows of cornfields and a smattering of grazing cows.
This is where I head to find peace. Wine Lover’s Weekend is set for March 20 through 30, 2014.
I can’t wait to get back.
Jamie’s Wine Studio
209 S. Main St., Galena
A picturesque setting in quaint downtown Galena was a welcoming place to enjoy a Sunday afternoon glass of wine. An impressive selection of bottles from some of my favorite boutique wineries left me stunned. Alma Rosa, Demetria, Inspiration Vineyards and Small Vines were just a few of the limited-production bottles that I expect to only see when I visit a California tasting room.
But owner Jamie Carroll, a social butterfly who enjoys connecting patrons that share common interests as she strolls through the shop, has sourced them for an impressive selection.
Chris Lawlor has another bold venture as a winemaker.
Chambourcin is on the verge of being the next special wine out of Illinois. Chris embraced the potential of Marechal Foch and led the charge with Galena Cellar’s flag ship red, Eric the Red, which gets better every year.
Last year I laid down an Eric the Red for an entire year. It was brilliant when opened. Chambourcin was very good when I opened it. But, there’s a firm backbone and nice tannins that portend aging potential that’s almost unheard of in Illinois wine. A bottle rests in my cellar.
I can’t wait to open it next year.
• James Nokes writes a bi-weekly wine column for the Daily Chronicle. He’s been tasting, touring and collecting in the wine world for several years. Contact him at email@example.com.