Johnson County Welcomes Bella Terra Winery to Southern Illinois
by dixie terry, For the Southern
Sunday, June 17, 2007 3:54 AM CDT
Bella Terra Winery, the latest addition to the long trail of vineyards and wineries in Southern Illinois, has been welcomed to Johnson County.
The county has two other wineries, Shawnee Winery in Vienna and Cache River Basin Winery in Belknap. Bella Terra is the first winery in the northern part of the county.
Owner and winemaker, Ed Russell, said county commissioners, Rick Nannie, Ernie Henshaw and Ed Brown, had been very cooperative. Jody Johnson, county developer, and Susan Odum, U of I Extension program coordinator, also helped immensely as he got the business off the ground, Russell added.
"Everyone we have approached has been very helpful," he said, including Don Denny of the Small Business organization at Shawnee Community College.
Russell has planted more than 6,000 plants in six varieties on the hills that overlook the scenic winery.
The basic design of the main building was turned out by a Marion architect. However, Russell came up with the creative features, such as the wrap-around covered patio, the back deck and the impressive interior.
The style is a suggestion of Tuscany and guests are almost certain they have arrived in the grape growing area of Italy.
Italian wines and Italian art complement each other in the elegant restaurant. A gift shop, featuring Bella Terra souvenirs, also is planned.
A simulated slate roof is actually metal in a copper bronze finish.
The tinted sidewalks and vintage-appearing stamped concrete on the porch floors were created by Ramsey Concrete of Marion
Russell said there is more than ample parking for all events, including an additional 150 acres across the road, where some 500 cars could be parked.
The winery produced 5,500 gallons of vintage this past year in stand-alones or blends.
"We must have done something right," Russell said, saying ordinarily a customer would come in for a tasting and buy a single bottle to be polite. However, he found most Bella Terra guests took home two, four or six bottles.
The elegant restaurant will seat 100, while another 100 can be accommodated on the deck and porch. The winery can host private social events, musical events and other entertainment planned by the staff.
"We have opened prematurely," Russell said, but an open house is planned for mid-summer.
Business hours are Monday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The restaurant menu includes sandwiches, snacks and cheese plates, plus light desserts and hand-dipped ice cream.
Reservations are suggested for groups by calling 658-8882.
Bocce ball courts are being built under the massive shade trees that grace the lawn, a former old home site.
Card games will be available for those who choose that entertainment. Guests are urged to come out and spend the day, relaxing in the shade or on the sunny deck overlooking a pond.
As a beginning vintner, Russell began learning the art and science of wine production at a class at Shawnee Community College, advancing to additional classes and seminars at the college and other wineries. He also communicates with other are winemakers.
Although Bella Terra Winery is off the beaten path, it is easily found, thanks to the "trail blazer signs" along Tunnel Hill Road, Creal Springs Road and Parker City Road. Signage on Interstate 24 and state highways will be completed soon.
Visitors can turn on Tunnel Hill Road from either Illinois 37 or U.S. 45 and follow the signs, along the scenic countryside that is well worth the trip.
Marion, Illinois Area Chamber and Little Egypt.
Creal Springs is located in southeastern Williamson County, on the north slope of the Shawnee Hills just east of Lake of Egypt. In the early 1800's, Lusk's Ferry Road was an important road that connected Fort Kaskaskia with Lusk's Ferry on the Ohio River. The original survey maps of Illinois show a short segment of this road south of Creal Springs, in Johnson County. This old road most likely ran from Marion through Creal Springs before ascending to the summit of the Shawnee Hills. The modern road running toward the southeast into Creal Springs may be the old road. The road leading south out of Creal Springs toward Lake of Egypt links into the Wagon Creek Road, which leads to the segment mapped in the original survey. Modern maps also show traces of an older road that ran south out of Creal Springs along a less direct line.
The route south out of Creal Springs lead to a difficult passage over the Shawnee Summit. There was an easier, though longer, zigzag route east to New Burnside, southwest along modern U.S. Highway 45, and then back east to Reynoldsburg. Creal Springs may at one time have served as the junction of these alternative routes.
Creal Springs, home to the Bella Terra Winery on Parker City Rd. near New Burnside, is nestled in the beautiful surroundings of the Shawnee National Forest. With a scenic view of ponds, trees, and the vineyard, Bella Terra provides the perfect setting for sipping wines or celebrating special occasions. Bella Terra Winery was not created just for wine connoisseurs, it offers food and activities for the whole family. Visitors can play bocce ball, throw a game of washers, watch a favorite team on TV, or just relax under a tree and enjoy the breeze.The manicured grounds of Bella Terra Winery combined with beautiful shade trees create a striking backdrop for any occasion. The spacious dining area will seat up to 100 guests inside, with additional outside seating available for over 100 plus. Perfect for any reception, event, or family gatherings. During normal hours guests can relax with a glass of wine, enjoy sandwiches, pizzas, cheese plates,ice cream,and brownies with the family, or just sit down and play games. Pplaying cards, checkers, dominos, and other games are available. A the tasting bar there are samples available of all ther wine selections. After making choices enjoy the wine indoors or relax in the shade outside. Wines include red and semi-sweet varieties.
Southern Illinois' Shawnee Hills region was recognized by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau as an American Viticultural Area (AVA) in 2004, becoming the state's first region acknowledged for its distinctive winemaking properties. The designation allows winemakers to include the region's name on any wines with 85 percent or more of their volume derived from area grapes, assuring consumers that wines with Shawnee Hills on the label are enriched by the region's characteristic grape attributes. In addition, the designation will let wineries within the AVA use the term "Estate Bottled" for the first time to describe area wines produced on the same premises on which the grapes are grown. The AVA encompasses 18 wineries and 55 vineyards covering approximately 300 acres. In recent years the area's Shawnee Hills Wine Trail has grown to become a tourist destination that entertains more than 100,000 visitors each year, generating gross annual revenues exceeding $2 million. Comprising eight wineries set among the rolling hills and picturesque vistas of the Shawnee National Forest and dotted with charming bed and breakfasts, the trail introduces travelers to the sophisticated, genuine experiences of Illinois wine country.