Top Five Wineries on the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail

Situated in an unlikely spot for vineyards, the Shawnee Hills Wine Trail is actually one of the United States' top viticultural areas. Nestled just south of Carbondale, Illinois, the wine trail is composed of 12 different wineries and has become a popular tourist attraction for individuals from St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago, to name a few. Though each of the wineries has its own unique touch, here are the five in the "must-see" category.

1. Von Jakob Vineyard (Alto Pass, IL)
Von Jakob (pronounced Von Yah-cub) combines the elegance of a winery with a unique German brewpub atmosphere, as they also brew several different beers on the premises. They also have a pretty large menu of traditional German dishes, including four different varieties of bratwurst. When you're sampling the wines, an excellent starting point is the Ridge Red, a sweeter red that is popular among a wide variety of tastes. If you're more of a fan of white wine, try one of their apple wines like Little Grand Canyon Gold or Johnny Apple.

2. Owl Creek Vineyard (Cobden, IL)
Located outside the tiny town of Cobden (home of the Appleknockers), Owl Creek may not have as extensive of a wine selection as the other vineyards, but they have several excellent wines. One of the more intriguing wines to try is the Whooo's Blush, a semi-sweet chambourcin wine that is loaded with fruity flavor. In the reds, try the Ruby Red Concord, while the Framboise is a great dessert wine for those with a more mature taste. An added bonus: You can buy the special Owl Creek Vineyard wine glasses.

3. StarView Vineyards (Cobden, IL)
Also situated outside of Cobden, StarView specializes more in semi-sweet and dry wines than other wineries on the trail. The top choices out of the red wines are the Red Giant and Supernova, while the Chardonel is a good choice of the whites. However, StarView is best known for their wine slushes. Made with their Silver Star wine, the slush offers a great balance of sweet with the flavors of wine.

4. Hedman Vineyard (Alto Pass, IL)
Owned by native Swedes, Hedman offers up plenty of unique tastes in their wine lineup. The most-popular wine on the menu is the Chamboucin, a multi-time state and regional winner. For the more adventurous types, the Peach wine or the Swedish Glogg are both interesting in their own way.

5. Alto Vineyards (Alto Pass, IL)
Alto is one of the oldest vineyards on the trail and also one of the most successful, as 18 of their wines have won awards at the state, regional or international level. Be sure to try the Wiener Dog White (a semi-sweet wine with hints of mango and pear), the Vidal Blanc (a double gold winner at the 2014 Illinois Governor's Cup) and the Dawg House Red (a semi-dry with corot noir and chamboucin grapes).

Michael Benson is a life-long Illinois resident and an avid traveler throughout the Midwest.