“It takes a lot of beer to make wine.” This is one of the first axioms I heard when I tried my hand at winemaking with my father-in-law, a proprietor of a local vineyard and winery, nearly a decade ago. Obviously the sentiment isn’t literal, and more than a little hyperbolic, but it does speak to the fact that artisan wine, beer, cider and distilled spirits are interconnected on several levels. Many of the basic processes of fermentation are similar, but there is also a kindred spirit when it comes to creating a unique and flavorful product out of raw ingredients, which are also often locally produced.
The Bluffs Vineyard and Winery, located about 10 miles west of Murphysboro on Illinois 3, can attest to this fact. Cheryl and Steve Ellis opened their winery in April 2010, but had been making wine and dreaming of a commercial winery since the mid-1990s.
“My family has always made wine,” Steve explains, “and we enjoyed going to the few local wineries there were at the time. We just believed this was something we could do to contribute to the area.” Steve is a Murphysboro native, and Cheryl is from Jacob. So, regional appeal is at the heart of what the Ellises strive for — a fact that is not lost on visitors to their beautiful, spacious and friendly tasting room.
How does all of this wine talk relate to beer? Along with being one of the premiere destinations for wine in Southern Illinois, The Bluffs also has been one of the biggest, and earliest, supporters of the burgeoning craft beer culture locally.
“We have had Chuck’s (Chuck Stuhrenberg, owner of Big Muddy Brewing in Murphysboro) beers from the very beginning,” Steve says. “Big Muddy only had three beers then, and we had them all available from day one.” Big Muddy currently brews over a dozen different craft beers, and The Bluffs was instrumental in introducing many wine and beer lovers throughout the region to local craft beer for the first time.
Now, The Bluffs is taking the passion for handcrafted libations to the next level by offering 10 different regional craft beers on draft from some of the best breweries in the Midwest, including Cathedral Square, Crown Valley, Excel, O’Fallon and Tallgrass.
“We love to be on the ground floor of the local craft beer explosion,” Steve explains. “Our customers recognize the taps and tell their friends. Guests throughout the region have always supported us, so I’d like to think that we are supporting them in turn by focusing on small, Midwestern craft breweries.”
Besides boasting more than a dozen award-winning wines of its own and a craft beer selection that will make even the most discerning beer geek smile, The Bluffs also features an array of seasonal parties, live music every weekend and lots of weddings in its scenic location overlooking the Mississippi Valley.
The view from The Bluffs is simply one of the best in the entire region, and, as Steve likes to say, “pictures just don’t do it justice.”
SHAWN CONNELLY writes for Beer Connoisseur magazine and is a craft and specialty beer retail consultant and an award-winning home brewer. Read his blog at beerphilosopher.com.