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ALTO PASS — Deep in Southern Illinois, along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail, there are many places where visitors can treat their palates to barbecue, pizza and other familiar eats to pair with a glass of wine.

Those seeking something different can make a stop at Hedman Vineyards, where they will be treated to gourmet meals, many of which feature Scandinavian dishes.

The vineyard/restaurant began as a small peach orchard that was purchased in the 1990s by Stockholm natives Anders and Gerd Hedman. Gerd, a physical therapist, came to nearby Carbondale to work and the couple was looking for a place to live. They purchased the small farm, which included a century-old home and dilapidated barn where fruit was processed.

“This was bad. This was very bad,” Gerd said of the beautifully restored main room. “It took a lot of work to make it like this.”

Fortunately, Anders operated a contracting business in Sweden and is an experienced carpenter. He did most of the work of restoring the house — built in 1879 — and the old peach barn. The couple has kept the memory alive, naming their restaurant The Peach Barn.

They had no commercial agricultural experience, but were motivated students, learning everything they could from university specialists and other fruit producers in the region. Soon, they were making wine from the peaches. Before long, they planted a vineyard and now have several grape-based wines.

Food is an afterthought for many wineries, but it is an essential part of the Hedmans’ business. Full meals are served regularly, including such specialties as Swedish meatballs, fish au gratin and wiener schnitzel. Other dishes include artichoke chicken and marinated salmon with béarnaise sauce.

A few times a year, the restaurant presents four-course dinner events, paired with the appropriate wines.

“These are special days and are very festive,” Gerd said. “They are reservation-only events, and they sell out quickly.”

Those wanting to get their fork into the type of gourmet European food served at The Peach Barn have to make the trip. Getting recipes out of Gerd is about as easy as growing peaches in Sweden.

“She’s going to take them to her grave,” said employee Abby Brumleve.

Nat Williams writes for Illinois Farmer Today, a Lee Enterprises sister publication of The Southern.

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