EL PASO - The Furrow family just can't attract enough wine lovers to their vineyard to stay in business. The family-owned Furrow Vineyard & Winery in El Paso likely will close in March, though an exact date is not set, said co-owner Wayne Furrow.
"We need to increase our numbers, and it's just not happening," Furrow said Tuesday. "We've got excellent customers, and they come here a lot, but we needed to get quite a few more."
Furrow and his father, Wally Furrow, opened Central Illinois' first winery in late 2001. After talking about closing for the past year, the family recently announced the difficult decision to quit growing grapes and making wine.
"It's pretty hard. We put our heart and soul into it for six years," Furrow said.
The winemaking community also will miss one of the leaders in the industry.
Wally Furrow has been a great advocate for the wine industry, said Paul Hahn, owner of the Mackinaw Valley Vineyard. Wally Furrow played his role, including taking on tasks as president of the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association a few years ago and tackling legislative battles in Springfield.
"We're going to miss them," Hahn said. "I'm sorry to see them go."
A key stop on Central Illinois wine trail
The Furrow winery was one of four stops on the Central Illinois wine trail that also includes Mackinaw Valley Vineyard, Kickapoo Creek Winery near Peoria and Willett's Winery & Cellar in Manito. The loss of one-fourth of the trail will make it even harder to bring in tourism dollars, Hahn said.
As for the Furrows, Wayne Furrow said they'll likely tear out some grape vines and plant corn and soybeans again. He'll also look for another job off of the farm.
Furrow's also has experienced a problem with a plant disease that originated with the vines and all of the plants on the 10-acre vineyard eventually will die, Furrow said. About 30 percent of the plants are infested now and are close to dying, but that problem is unrelated to the closure, Furrow said.
The winery could have bought grapes from other growers for less money than it costs to grow grapes if it were to continue to operate, he said. At least for a couple more years, they'll continue to grow and sell Norton grapes, which are more resistant to the plant disease, to other wineries.
Central Illinois residents are fortunate to have a big variety of activities every weekend in Bloomington-Normal, Peoria and surrounding communities, Furrow said. But so many events means there's not enough traffic at the winery, Furrow said.
"There's only so many people in this area. … It's hard to get new people all the time," he said.
Furrow's is now offering an inventory close-out sale with 40 percent off all wines and 60 percent off items in the gift shop. Merchandise is moving quickly, but the winery still has about 15 varieties of white and red wines, Furrow said. Plus, the winery had a couple new wines it will introduce before March, he said.
Furrow said the family also will discontinue their fall business, the Red Barn Village, which began about four years ago as a means to attract more people to the winery. That business sold pumpkins, gourds and squash and activities included a straw castle, a petting zoo, a barrel train, a corn maze and a nature walk.