Win(e)ding Around Northern Illinois – The Valentino Vineyards & Winery

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Valentino VineyardsWhile wandering my Win(e)ding Roads in northern Illinois a while ago, I drove past what appeared to be a vineyard in the suburbs.  Now there are several wineries in the area, but unless they are further out into the exurban area, there are no vineyards associated with them.  They obtain their fruit either by contracting with vineyards for fruit or must.  It took me a bit to track down the vineyard name and website but eventually, I was ready to visit.

When we arrived at the winery we were greeted by the owner and winemaker, Rudolph Valentino DiTommaso who chatted with us about the winery.  Mr. DiTommaso started as a developer who had been making wine for years.  At one point he was speaking with a friend with more wine making experience and wondered what he needed to do to improve his wine.  The answer?  Improve the grapes that he was using.  Using grapes that were available for sale to home winemakers were not the first quality.  Those went to vineyards with their own wineries or were specifically grown for them.  That is when Mr. DiTommaso decided to grow his own grapes.  The remaining land that he originally thought would be used for single family homes were converted into vineyard.

The next interesting part of the Valentino Vineyards are the grapes that they grow.  Traditionally, northern type vineyards grow hybrid or native varietals that can survive our delightful Illinois winters.  This vineyard is growing a good selection of vinifera grapes.  How?  At the end of the season the vines are buried to protect their root system.  This is a time consuming process but can be done at a small operation such as this.  Yes, hybrids are grown as well, so not all the vines need so much tending.

As a result, there are estate grown Chardonnay’s in Illinois.  Wow.  Additionally, they produce fortified wines that are among the most unique that I have tasted.  Missing is the alcoholic sting of a newer port style wine.

The downside to everything? The winery is only open April to December on weekends only.

With spring around the corner? Stop by and visit!

Valentino Vineyards
5175 Aptakisic Road
Long Grove, IL 60047
April thru December: Monday – Thursday, by appt., Friday, 5pm – 9pm, Saturday, 11am – 5pm, Sunday, 12pm – 4pm

Déjà Deadwood

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

Welcome to Prairie BerryYou thought I was done with the Black Hills, didn’t you? Sorry, I really had been headed for the Prairie Berry Winery when I encountered Stone Faces. And it wasnt possible for me to pass up the opportunity to stop at TWO wineries in a single day and so I continued down the road to my original destination.

Yes, this is really South DakotaThe driveway went up a little hill and there was an an entrance through the patio. The room was spacious and modern. Not at all what someone would expect from a South Dakota winery. But then the folks at Prairie Berry have been at this for five generations when Anna and Josef Vojta set up a homestead in Mounds, South Dakota. Anna brought with her the tradition of wine making from Moravia (now the Czech Republic) and taught it to her daughter-in-law Frances, who passed it to her son, Frank, who passed it to his son, Ralph and finally to his daughter, Sandi. When asked about the source of the fruit, Anna would tell her family that her wine was made from the prairie berries. The winery has existed at its current location since 2004 and still uses the old family recipes that use local prairie fruits, grapes and honey.

Very tart

I tried to taste wines that were made with local grapes or fruit or were drier and so I started with:

The Phat Hogg Chardonnay which is unoaked with the flavors of banana and tropical fruit (though others might say mango citrus) and is lightly buttery.  Next was the Buffalo Berry Fusion which is a blend of local buffalo berries and Steuben grapes. The result is a tart, almost cranberry-like wine. Definitely a unique (and by that I mean pleasant) flavor. The Three Rednecks features a label with three pheasants in baseball hats and is a light, peppery Cabernet Sauvignon. Chambourcin from the Louis & Clark Vineyards are the source for the Phat Hogg Red. This is a great wine and I was amazed about how differently the Chambourcin was from others that I had in the past. It was definitely a smoother more well rounded wine than I expected. Finally, I tried the chokecherry medley. Why? Well, I don’t know what a choke cherry tasted like. And it turns out they are very tart. Not my favorite, but then not everything is, or should be.

Prairie Berry is a treasure in the Black Hills (or the Prairie, if you are a Little House fan).  Find them here:

Prairie Berry Winery

23837 Hwy 385, PO Box 8

Hill City, SD, 57745


Lake Wisconsin AVA

Gretchen Neuman
VinoVerve Editor

You might have thought that I forgot to say much about the Lake Wisconsin AVA. You would be wrong. I wanted to talk about it here.


Well, it is the only AVA wholly located within the State of Wisconsin (The Upper Mississippi Valley covers four states).

This appellation is smaller than that. It is 28,000 acres as opposed to 29,000 square miles. Currently there is only one winery operating in the AVA and that is the Wollersheim Winery. I mention this, as I have visited its sister winery Cedar Creek Winery in Cedarburg, WI and enjoyed their wines.  The winery produces a number of wines from grapes grown outside of the AVA but also from their own fruit of the Marchel Foch, Millot, St. Pepin and Lacrosse varietals

But there is even more to this appellation and its sole winery. Indeed the first vines planted on the property were placed their by Agoston Haraszthy who later became known as the “Father of California Viticulture”.

In addition to planting the vineyard Haraszthy was also the co-founder of the oldest incorporated village in the state, Sauk City, Wisconsin. Sauk City is also home to the first Culver’s Butter Burger Restaurant (a client of mine from my days as a franchise paralegal) and is the birthplace and childhood home of Jacob Leininkugel of the Lieninkugel Brewing Company.

Hopefully, this will be a stop on the trip.