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MACKINAW - Wine enthusiasts don't have to travel to California to enjoy the creations of top vineyards.

Just 15 miles west of Bloomington, nine of Illinois' vintners are offering their selections this weekend at the Central Illinois Wine Festival hosted by Mackinaw Valley Vineyard.

The grape and wine business has grown from 16 wineries in 2000 to more than 70, said Paul Hahn, who supervises the family-owned Mackinaw winery.

"Illinois used to be the fourth largest producer of wine before Prohibition," Hahn noted, adding the expanding state wine industry has created what some refer to as "agri-tourism."

The festival's sprawling outdoor setting, surrounded by a lake and more than a dozen acres of wine grapes, was a popular stop for visitors to the event that continues from noon to 7 p.m. Sunday with wine tasting, food and live blues music. The winery is located on Illinois 9 just east of Mackinaw.

Hahn came into the wine business about 10 years ago from a farming background.

"I was looking for something different. I was a corn and soybean farmer," he said. A seminar on the wine business developed into a career and a new member joined the growing ranks of winemakers.

The public's love of local wines also is growing, said Hahn.

"There is a real interest in something homegrown. Everybody loves something local," he said.

Brenda Logan and her daughter, Kim Orth, came to the wine festival armed with eight of the 12 wines made at Baxter's Old Nauvoo Vineyards in Nauvoo. Logan's husband, Kelly, is the fifth generation to operate the winery that will celebrate its 150th anniversary this year.

Logan attributed the expansion of the Illinois wine business to two factors: The state is prime grape-growing country and people's blossoming interest in wine has resulted in a much larger demand for locally made wines.

The mixture of imagination and agriculture makes the wine business enjoyable, said Logan, adding, "The fun part is doing your blends and having people try them and enjoy them."

The traditional pairing of wine and cheese was available at the festival in a unique offering from Ropp Jersey Cheese. The Bloomington dairy paired up with the Mackinaw winery to produce two cheeses that are a mixture of Ropp cheese and Mackinaw Valley wine.

"This was a way to keep the dairy open," said Christy Love, who is with the Bloomington cheese company.

The wine and cheese combination has been popular since its debut about four months ago, said Ken Ropp, part of the fourth generation of Ropp family members to work at the dairy.


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