When David and Cynde Bunch built a big gazebo to use as a venue for Cynde’s dad’s milestone birthday party, locals started stopping by to ask what was going on with the family farm now known as Walker’s Bluff. When David and Cynde Bunch opened the doors of Legends, a magnificent restaurant just a quick walk from the gazebo, locals got the answer to their question! They walked into a uniquely extraordinary experience within the walls of one of the Southern Illinois region’s most beautiful dining venues.
The gazebo and restaurant were just the beginning steps in creating a successful estate vineyard that is now producing bottles of something even more unique and extraordinary. David Bunch developed a personal wine palate while traveling Europe during his career. He enjoyed the dry wines, both red and white, of Spain, Germany, Italy and France. When his wife suggested he plant some grapes at Walker’s Bluff, David was quick to say, “If I can’t grow something good, I’m not going to grow anything.”
For David Bunch, “good” meant growing old world European grapes that would produce dry wines, instead of the typical hybrids grown in Southern Illinois that produce sweet and semi-sweet wines. So, another uniquely extraordinary experience was launched at Walker’s Bluff when 1,700 posts were set and strung with 20 miles of wire so 4,000 vinifera grape vines could be planted. The vines include Barbera, Tempranillo, Sangiovese, Pino Gri and Syrah.
As the grapes grew and the plants matured, so did Walker’s Bluff. Other venues were added to the destination complex, including a tasting room, the Depot, a really well-stocked General Store and the unusual Wine Cave. Notoriety and popularity also grew at Walker’s Bluff, as premier events became the norm. Headline entertainers including Charlie Daniels and Sheryl Crow hit the outdoor stage, and many of the region’s popular fundraisers moved their locations to the beautiful grounds of Walker’s Bluff.
While all the good things were happening, the owners had their share of challenges, too. Although floods and storms barely slowed down the momentum, they certainly posed some issues. David Bunch said he knew he was taking a big gamble planting his preferred vines, but he didn’t expect to have to replace 50 percent of the Syrah plants the first year. He persevered and replanted and now happily reports that as the plants have matured, juice production has doubled every year. The most productive are the Sangiovese, Pino Gri and the Barbera, and that pleases him.
When first considering grape production, David tapped the expertise of the University of California at Davis. UC Davis is widely known for its viticulture and enology program that has produced extensive research and prominent alumni in the field for more than 100 years. UC Davis sampled the soil at Walker’s Bluff and determined that the content was close to the Bordeaux region of France. UC Davis is working to determine the DNA of a vine that arrived at Walker’s Bluff by accident in a shipment of Barbera grape vines! The vine has produced an unusual sweet white grape with unidentifiable leaves. David said the birds don’t like the grapes and the plants have grown well, so he wants to know what it is. He anticipates planting more.
Additional varieties of grapes won’t be the only changes at Walker’s Bluff. Plans for the estate winery include the addition of a hotel and an event center that can accommodate weddings and other special events. The entertainment lineup this year includes a couple of headline groups, and family-oriented activities are always in the plans. The Bunch grandchildren — five granddaughters — have made David and Cynde aware of the need to provide activities for the whole family.