Insight. Inspiration. Realization.
I, (Jim Ewers), first considered the idea of growing grapes in the mid-1990s, so I consulted some of the local Southern Illinois wineries and mulled over the idea with my father-in-law, Barrett Rochman. Although I realized I couldnâ€™t commit to the project at that time, the seed fell on fertile soil in Barrettâ€™s mind and Blue Sky Vineyard was transformed from mere idea to vision.
When my former place of employment closed in 1999, Barrett reintroduced the vineyard vision and shortly thereafter we spent a rainy afternoon with state viticulturist, Imed Dami, determining where to plant the grapes. Many hours of planning, reading, and preparation ensued, and it was during a course at a local community college that I met Gary Orlandini, a seasoned veteran winemaker. His inspiration and insight paired with Karen Handâ€™s mastery of winemaking are what you will taste in our Illinois wines.
In the fall of 2000, I prepped the first 2 Â½ acres of ground to be planted the following spring. An instructor I had once said, â€œAbsolute precision is not necessary when laying out the rows of grapes.â€ Too late, my first blocks were already laid out using a transit, tape, and string line. Although I have since modified the method of laying out the rows to some extent, I still make sure that the blocks are square, parallel and spaced with unnecessary precision. I find a great inner calm when I look out over a field of grow tubes laid out with such symmetry. It this attention to detail, that ensures the highest quality grapes go into our Illinois wines.
With the grapes planted and the winemaking underway, our family turned their sights toward the winery itself. Nancy Karen Brian, Chairman of the Department of Design at California State University, Fresno, designed the Tuscan inspired Blue Sky Winery. After years of dedication and attention to every detail we opened our doors to the world on July 4th, 2005. Ever since then, we have continually strived to create a place of great tranquility. As the photos in our gallery will attest, this marvelous location is ideal for weddings, receptions, and romantic getaways.
Grapes grown at Blue Sky Vineyard include: Chambourcin, Norton, Vignoles, Seyval, Cabernet Franc*, Traminette, Niagara and Chardonnay*. (*Indicates Vinifera)
Roughly 13 acres are planted or about 7,750 vines. Just over 11 of these acres are actually in production and the others are currently in the process of reaching their maturity. Vines take 3 years to grow a partial crop after planting. In 5 years the vines will produce a full crop.
The grapevines that we grow are mostly hybrid vines. This means that at least two varieties of grape have been cross-bred to form a different grape variety. Our Cabernet Franc and our Chardonnay are vinifera or European grape varieties. The elevation at Blue Sky Vineyard (600ft) combined with other factors like climate, soil and drainage allows us to grow the vinifera vines here.
You will find the scenery of southern Illinois very different from that of the rest of the state.Â Southern Illinois is part of the Ozark foothills and is un-glaciated. Most of the area around Southern Illinois was leveled by glaciers. We are part of the â€œShawnee Hillsâ€ American Viticultural Area which was designated in 2006 by the federal government.Â This designation was sought after by Ted Wichmann, and was granted due to the unique circumstances that make our area perfect for growing grapes with unique qualities.
While planning your visit to Blue Sky Vineyard and the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail please take a moment to appreciate the communities that surround us.Â Nestled in the heart of the Shawnee National Forest, there are a number of small communities that offer a little bit of everything to help round out your visit to southern Illinois.Â Whether you are looking for one-of-a-kind art, antiques, an outdoor adventure or a unique dining experience, our friendly surrounding communities have everything you need.