When I need to make a trip that takes me close by a winery, you can bet I will take the opportunity to visit if possible. Even though it may be a little off my I-55 route in West-Central Illinois, I took time recently to visit Vixen Hill Winery on my way home from St. Louis.
Vixen Hill Winery is owned by Gene and Vera Pence. Their story is much like so many that I have heard from other winery owners, in which a past love of wine and enjoyment of visiting wineries became a post retirement journey.
The very first section of the Vixen Hill “Vineyard” was planted in 1999. The vineyard was named after seeing a Vixen (female fox) and her pups that were seen there the day of the planting. A decision was made in 2012 to become Vixen Hill “Winery” and construction began in 2013.
In addition to the wines, they have a menu that includes a variety of “lite bites”, sandwiches, and flatbread pizza. So, there is a good reason to sit back and relax and have a bite to eat while trying a few wines.
They also host live music and many other types of events throughout the year. It seems like there is always something happening at the winery.
Gene’s education in winemaking is self-taught with the “trial and error” method, as he described, but includes collaboration with Southern Illinois University (Carbondale) Horticulture faculty and other winery owners, who are more than willing to share their experience.
Gene was excited to show me his small operation. Even though this may be a small winery, the product is much bigger than just wines produced. Sure they have very nice wines, but because the entire family is enthusiastically involved, and they involve friends and the community in some of the production (picking, bottling, etc), Gene and Vera get so much more in return for their hard work.
Vixen Hill wines are produced using fruit from the family-owned vineyard or sourced from locally owned Possland Vineyard. The varieties include Frontenac, Norton, Chambourcin, Chardonnel (cross between Chardonnay & Seval), Niagara, Vignoles, Catawba, and Concord.
There are wines to fit all palettes from dry to semi-sweet, sweet, sangria, and the bourbon barrel series.
Gene and Vera’s daughter, Joya who along with the rest of the Pence family helps with the winery, served me for a tasting of the wines. It’s always a “joy” to take part in a tasting with someone who knows the story of the wines.
Here is a list of the wines I tried along with the winery’s tasting notes:
Vixen Hill Red – Made from Frontenac, this mildly acidic and spicy wine is medium bodied with a light smooth French oak finish. This wine will gain complexity with age. Pairs with: sizzling hot steak or mouth-watering barbeque
Chambourcin – Produced from a medium-bodied grape with fruity, cherry aromas, and earthy complexities. These grape are sourced from Possland Vineyards in Palmyra. Pairs with: barbecue, pork and pasta dishes.
Vixen Hill White – This Chardonel (shar-doe-nel) is a light bodied dry wine with aromas ranging from apple to pear. This varietal is a cross of Chardonnay and Seval grapes. Pairs with: heavier seafood and chicken with cream sauces.
Bourbon Barrel Frontenac – This year’s vintage produced grapes with high acid and high sugar. After fermenting for one year, the wine is racked into used bourbon barrels for six months to a year. The resulting wine is a very smooth dry red wine with bourbon undertones. These grapes are sourced from Possland Vineyards in Palmyra. Pairs with: alone or anything from a cigar to hushpuppies.
Bourbon Barrel Chambourcin – This is our oaked Chambourcin wine finished in a bourbon barrel for approximately 8 months. It has hints of black pepper and spice with a nice smoky finish. This is a favorite with red wine drinkers with its bourbon nose and finish. Pairs with: Prime Rib, BBQ, grilled meat, marinara based pasta dishes.
Bourbon Barrel Vignoles – Our 3rd entry in our bourbon barrel series. The crispness of our fruity Vignoles wine has been rounded by barrel aging. Toasting oak on the nose, this wine is layered with complex smokey flavors of toasted coconut, caramel and almonds and has a palate cleansing finish. Pairs with: seafood, salads and cheeses.
I ended up purchasing a bottle of all three wines in the Bourbon Barrel Series.
I truly appreciate the hospitality and opportunity to visit with Gene and Joya during this visit, and I hope to return sometime in the future.