“You can’t grow grapes in Northern IL.” These words, along with a healthy dose of determination and ingenuity, led to the genesis of DeKalb County’s only vineyard.
Waterman Winery is located just 13 minutes south of DeKalb. At first glance, it might appear to be just one of so many farms that dot the landscape—and that’s because it is a working farm. However, a closer look will reveal that’s there more here than meets the eye!
Just a short distance from the main farm sits a valley that appears to have been lifted from California wine country. Sheltered by two dense rows of pine trees, wide rows of grapes grow in the fertile Northern Illinois soil. Protected from extreme winds by the towering conifers, it’s an oasis set in the middle of a vast sea of corn and other familiar crops. The arbors here are home to 40 varieties of grapes—all grown organically and all tended to with meticulous care by Terrie and Lex Tuntland, former science teachers turned wine makers. A stroll down the widely-spaced grape arbors is a step into a quieter, more peaceful space. Birds sing, fish occasionally splash in the central pond, and all is enveloped in a peaceful blanket of stillness.
Waterman Winery practices wine-making the old fashioned way—by hand. Grapes are hand-picked and transported up to a wood-beamed barn whose origins date back into the mid-1800s, and are hand-processed that same day. The wine is naturally fermented in the structure throughout the winter through a traditional process. No refrigeration is used to speed up the process. Rather, the grape juice is allowed to take its time, aging gracefully in a process that has been employed by wine-makers for hundreds of years.
Sustainability is the focus at Waterman Winery. The vineyard is grass-covered, pesticides are kept to an extreme minimum, all excess organic matter is returned to the fields, and all wine is bottled by hand. This organic approach even earned the winery a Governor’s Sustainability Award in 2010.
The result is nothing short of spectacular. Twenty varieties of wine are available at the wine room—all hand-bottled, and all made from grapes grown exclusively on the property (including five 2018 Illinois State Farm Wine Competition award winners). Visitors to the tasting room can bring their own food and enjoy a quiet visit to the country while sampling the current offerings. For the more adventurous, tours are available which showcase both the vineyard but also the processing and fermentation area. In the off-farming season, there’s even a giant combine that serves as a backdrop for photographs—as well as something to entertain younger visitors. You might even get a glimpse of Terrie’s grandfather’s vintage Ford truck.
A visit to Waterman Winery is a glimpse into the total wine-making process. From vineyard to fermentation to bottling, everything is done on-site, by hand, and with an attention to detail that is second to none. Small batch wines of unique flavor using organically-grown grapes await wine-lovers of all ages. While Waterman Winery is able to ship to most states in the continental US, it’s the experience of strolling the vineyard, walking through the processing barn, and then sipping a glass on site that creates a unique moment that visitors will want to savor again and again.