After several false start attempts to stop in this north-central Illinois winery vineyard site, I finally got away early enough to stop in on my return trip to Chicago from downstate Illinois. A slight fifteen minute diversion from the junction of Interstate 74 and 55 is the winery tasting room of Rudi and Mary Hofmann and their Sunset Lake Vineyards and Winery (formerly White Oak Vineyards). Rudi tends to the viticulture while Mary serves as winemaker and cellar steward.
In 2010, they purchased the neighboring property which included a log home that has been remodeled into the winery and tasting room overlooking a lower vineyard and a pond they created in 2011 (below).
Today, they market a dozen different labels of estate bottled wines, and a couple composed of grapes brought in from Michigan.
Besides the Bernese Red, their signature red may be the Maximillian label named after Rudi's 'Opa', or their Illinois Norton grape Landhaus red, or Abendrot (translated as 'evening red' or 'Evening Sunset', a blend of Foch and DeChaunac grapes.
Maximillian is a blend of red St Croix, Marquette and Frontenac grape varietals, was blackish ruby colored, medium full bodied, complex black fruits with notes of leather, tobacco leaf, black tea, smoke and hint of black pepper.
The Abendrot had similar characteristics, similiar color and body as the Maximillian, similar but more focused black berry fruits, with narrower accents of cedar and notes of alcohol on the finish.
The offer a broad selection of whites from a dry Riesling to a couple of off-dry whites to a semi sweet and a sweet offering. They also produce a couple of Sangria's, a red and a white, and a Rose'.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised at the breadth of quality wines they produced, generally flavorful and enjoyable wines across the spectrum. They offer good values at a pricepoint of about $18 each.
After tasting several wines, Mary went into the cellar and returned to offer me a taste of her special project back in the winery, a fortified red blend that she hopes to bottle this fall and hold for bottle aging for some time before release. It showed promise and should be a delectable offering on release.
For my tasting, I focused solely on their Estate bottled wines, (meaning they grew all the grapes there on the property). My white wine tasting flight started with 'Feierabend' which Rudi translates to 'end of the day' referring the red evening pre-dusk skies. This was a dry Traminette varietal, straw colored, medium - light bodied with complex notes of tropical fruit and kiwi.
I then tasted and ended up purchasing their off-dry Seyval Blanc varietal based wine, Golden Days. This was light butter honey colored with medium body that showed an amazing predominant peach nectar flavor accented by notes of flint and mineral on the finish. Mary said in most years, this came across with a green apple tone but this year gave way to the layer of peach.
Stop in and enjoy the wines and hospitality of Rudi and Mary at Sunset Lake Vineyards and Winery. Take a drive down historic Route 66 along Interstate 55, cut west at Lexington through Hudson and take the backways over to their site in Carlock, IL.