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It’s hard to believe that year was 2006, and not 1920. Joe and Dawn Taylor had just spent the last four years building and cultivating what was to become Sleepy Creek Vineyards. Only they were in for one major surprise — Prohibition was still in effect in the township where their vineyard was located. Turns out that when prohibition was originally repealed in 1933, the township narrowly voted to keep it dry. Not something you want to find out just as you’re about to harvest your first crop of grapes.
Yet, always believing “the wine glass is half full,” Joe and Dawn did what any dedicated winemakers would do. They launched their own campaign to end Prohibition in the township. And with the support of local residents, their efforts soon proved successful. Nearly 75 years after the US government originally repealed Prohibition, Sleepy Creek was finally free to uncork their first bottle of wine on May 18, 2007.
A decade later, Sleepy Creek Vineyards is thriving, producing some of the region’s tastiest wines, and Joe and Dawn are doing and making what they love most. The vineyard now spans more than 10 acres, producing more than 35,000 bottles of wine a year. Every Sleepy Creek Wine is made with homegrown grapes and fruit from local growers.
Joe and Dawn lovingly admit they couldn’t do it all without the help of Sleepy Creek’s very own volunteer group called the Purple Finger Club. It’s not your typical wine club by any means. Volunteers of the club help handpick grapes during the busy harvest season. And yes, membership does have its privileges — first access to small-batch wines, invitations to special events, and temporarily stained fingers are just a few.
Some people once believed it was impossible to start a winery, let alone an entire vineyard in East Central Illinois. But Joe and Dawn are proof that anything is possible, especially if you have perseverance, determination, and the support of the community. Mighty good wine helps too.
Cover photo credit Travel Illinois.