One of the jewels along the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is Hedman Vineyard and Peach Barn Café in Alto Pass.
Visitors will find award-winning wines and delicious food created with a European touch, along with unique hospitality served with a deep respect for the relationship between the food, wine and the place where it’s created.
Some wine enthusiasts conclude this describes how the “terroir” (how a region’s climate, soils and terrain affect the taste of wine) influences the wine. But it’s much deeper than that.
What Anders and Gerd Hedman have built over almost 25 years of operating the winery and café is a celebration of wine and food. The café menu treats the wine as food, not just as a drink to complement the Swedish and European menu options.
Just ask any of the tasting room staff about the best wine/food pairings.
Menu items reflect the Hedmans’ homeland – Sweden – as well as which wines will pair best with each menu item. Besides the European flavors, there’s finesse and an attention to detail, beginning with quality local and seasonal ingredients.
For the upcoming Valentine Wine Dinner, the wine pairings call for the dry white Chardonel with a Caesar salad, dry white Villard Blanc with roasted red bell pepper soup with Gouda cheese, dry red Norton with port wine chicken and sweet red Chambourcin dessert wine with a chocolate cappuccino tart.
One of the café’s most popular dishes is the homemade Swedish meatballs served with a luscious lingonberry sauce. Gerd’s version is a world better than those found at another well-known Swedish institution, IKEA.
Another favorite is the Wiener Schnitzel, a pork cutlet pounded thin by hand. It’s then fried up crisp and served with sweet and sour cabbage and caraway potatoes.
When not made by Anders, the wild game sausages made from venison, wild boar, bison, pheasant and duck come from a carefully selected purveyor. Dipped in Hedman’s signature mustard, none of the sausages have a gamey flavor. And just ask one of the tasting room servers for guidance on which wine pairs the best with the meats.
Even the cheese platter has a surprise pairing. Among the slices of smoked Gouda, Havarti and Asiago are blue cheese crumbles, its sharp flavor transformed and tamed when eaten on one of the imported Swedish Anna’s ginger snaps. (When the café is closed, the sausage platter and cheese platter are available in the tasting room.)
Anders’ wines are distinctive for a couple of reasons: his European methods and the locally-grown fruit (grapes and peaches).
Before opening as a commercial winery, Anders gained a reputation in Illinois wine circles for his version of Chambourcin, a French hybrid that thrives in southern Illinois and a common tasting room selection throughout Illinois.
His award-winning winemaking over the decades has expanded to include a Norton made with a European style, and a Traminette, a German Gewürztraminer type of wine from the Midwest. His Port-style wine is also made with the ubiquitous Chambourcin.
The wine list is completed with other wines made from grapes that love the southern Illinois climate and soils, including Chardonel and Villard Blanc. The wine list has something for everyone, from sweet to dry.
Another hint of the Hedmans’ personal heritage is the winter offering of Swedish Glögg, a mulled, warm red wine with spice and dried fruit.
Those looking for a fun twist will find a version of sangria unlike those offered at other Shawnee Hills wineries. Their peach sangria is based on their Traminette wine and includes fresh peaches, when in season.
The medals and trophies behind the tasting bar are a testament to Anders’ talent.
How did this couple end up building a winery and restaurant in Union County? Gerd is a physical therapist by training and spent a year studying in the region. The couple fell in love with the area, and it shows in every taste of their food and wine.