Danenberger Family Vineyards Review
Address: 12341 Irish Road New Berlin,Illinois 62670.
Phone Number: 217-488-6321
Tasting Hours: Thurs-Sat 12:00-6:00, Sun 1:00-5:30 and by appt.
Reviewer: Jill Barth
Review Date: 4/8/2016
Reviewer: Jill Barth
Three friends have traveled about 90 miles from Saint Louis to spend a few days in Springfield, Illinois, the nearest city to Danenburger Family Vineyards, where they start their weekend at the tasting bar. Another customer, who will later reveal himself as a local enthusiast, enjoys a chilled bottle of white wine at a small table with a very relaxed winery dog at his feet.
Its just-this-side of the weekend, about 2:00 on a Friday afternoon. Its just-this-side of spring with a winter-leftover chill on the wind and intense clouds fighting off the sun. The mood inside Danenburger is welcoming; as if its time for a before-the-kids-come-home glass of wine to start the weekend. Grace, Event Coordinator & Tasting Room Manager, pours my tasting and chats about the estate; she also makes recommendations and warmly converses with the group from St. Louis. This convivial, enthusiastic and informative tone continues when Susan Danenburger, owner and winemaker, enters the tasting room and says hello.
From the Danenburger website:
Some have said that you cant grow quality wine grapes in Central Illinois, but they dont know our secrets. Hundreds of our Vinifera, French-American hybrids and American hybrid vines cant be wrong. They love the minerals in our soil and the constant breeze keeping them disease-free. The added bonus is our special organic fertilizer with a top-secret technique.
This statement addresses the question that hangs around in Illinois, a state known for corn and budget-crisis more than vineyards and wine tourism. But this quote makes a point: in an off-state with 100-plus wineries, many of which exist outside of a specific AVA, how does a winemaker create wine and an atmosphere that says to customers: drink me?
Susan and her husband, co-owner Doug, seem to suggest the answer to this question is enthusiasm, knowledge and style. Susan is UC Davis-educated; a student of Dr. Ann Noble, shes a source of training on The Wine Aroma Wheel. She tends the vines, blends the wine, bottles each vintage, champions the industry, welcomes guests, designs the labels and influences the taste and style of the estate. She serves on the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association (IGGVA) Board of Directors and is partner-owner of vineyards in Washington State, where she and three other women source, share and sell grapes for wine production. Her background is impressive, and fans (known as the DFV Cult) will confirm that she funnels her know-how into an outstanding experience for visitors to the winery. On the day that I was there, she stopped what she was doing (preparing custom-made slate wine identifiers) to give me a peek of the tanks and share a barrel sample of her new Gewürztraminer.
Expect to get comfortable if you visit: there is an incredible amount, and variety, of seating inside and outside of the building. The patio features a flowing koi pond and bocce court. There is a cozy tasting room with several well-cushioned nooks; fire pits and fireplaces are scattered about. There is a multi-function area that provides shelter during cold months but can be converted to open-air seating in summer. In this space, the Danenburgers have built a custom brick oven and expansive tasting/dining bar. Its here that guest chefs from the community create food for purchase most Sundays as well as for special events. The local branch of Chaîne des Rôtisseurs had held events here featuring tastings of Susans wines; weddings, showers, and private events are popular. Visitors are welcome to bring light snacks to the winery any day except Sunday (when the local chefs take over and provide the food). Four very gentle Siberian Huskies live on the estate and Graces puppy, a German Shepard, hangs out while her owner is working.
Tastings are customizable, from wine flights comprised of 3-5 wines ($1 per wine), single tastings for $.50/splash or a $1/1 oz. pour. Customers can sample from seven dry red wines in the Desagacé Series, two rosé wines in the Stilettos in the Vineyard Series and five white wines in the Aura Aria Series which range from dry to sweet. There is also one dessert wine. Many of the wines are blends of Vinifera and hybrid grapes and whenever possible, local grapes are used. Most of the Danenburger wines have received awards and high scores from Beverage Testing Institute. Wines by the glass are available and most bottles are priced between $20 and $30. Wine orders can be shipped to most states and made by calling or emailing the winery. There is also a small, well-curated set of craft beers available for purchase.
I tasted three reds: Soleil 2011, Rouge 2012 and Coup de Foudre 2012. I was particularly drawn to Rouge: an oaky, smoky, dark and rich blend of Syrah, Marquette, Arandell, Marechel Foch and Oberlin Noir. I sampled Dalliance rosé, a semi-dry and juicy Cabernet Franc — Susan has a favorite grape, she told me, and its Cabernet Franc. I tasted two white wines, Paper Moon 2013 and Blanc 2013. Paper Moon, a Roussanne, Viognier, Chardonel and Vignoles blend, is served at room temperature to bring out a creamy, Chardonnay-like mouthfeel. When chilled (per customer preference) the acidic side of the wine is revealed. All of the wines are food-friendly and the tasting menu provides pairing suggestions. Visitors that enjoy taking tasting notes might want to bring a notebook; tasting menus are laminated and not-for-keeps.
Like many wineries, Danenburger is located in rural area, down a set of country roads framed by farmland. Cyclists enjoy the ride from nearby towns to take a pedal break on the patio. There are a handful of other wineries that visitors could arrange for a day of wine-tasting and in Springfield there are many historical sites, restaurants, and bars. Overnight guests would likely book a hotel or B&B in Springfield, the state capitol and home to President Abraham Lincoln; downtown Springfield hosts an outstanding presidential museum in honor of Abe and his family and the Lincoln home sits on a meticulously restored block of period homes and buildings. Check the Danenburger Family Vineyards website before your trip; events including live music, special tastings and guest chef are always on the calendar and promise an enjoyable experience.