Farmer turns to growing grapes

Monday, June 3, 2002

OAKFORD, Ill. -- Mark Lounsberry, whose ancestors settled in Menard County before the Civil War, hopes his new venture, the Hill Prairie Vineyard and Winery, will help marry the present with the past.

Lounsberry said his goal is to establish a prosperous family business. His sons, Matthew, 14, and Landon, 13, and wife, Connie, are already pruning the vines and harvesting the fruit. Lounsberry's parents also have been instrumental in getting the winery started.

With the Menard County Board's stamp of approval, plans are under way to construct a 7,500-square-foot building on the property 10 miles north of Petersburg.

Pressing the grapes, bottling and marketing the wine all will take place on site. Eventually, a circa-1911 prairie-style barn will be renovated.

"It will make for a unique experience that will set this winery apart from the others," Lounsberry said.

The others he is referring to are the 27 wineries scattered across Illinois from Galena to Champaign to Cobden. The oldest, Baxter's Vineyards/ Winery in Nauvoo, was established in 1885.

A crop and livestock farmer with his father, Lloyd, for the past 27 years, Lounsberry said he became interested in growing grapes as an alternative crop in 1998. Since then, he's been attending seminars all over the Midwest, learning as much as he can about the subject.

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