Galena Cellars & Vineyard-Family Legacy Through Generational Contribution

photo of front of Galena Cellars winery building

By: Gerald Dlubala

When a third-generation winemaker like Eric White, president and winemaker of Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery in Galena, Illinois, calmly and confidently says that he’s still learning, it shows the dedication and continuous education that occurs in the winemaking industry. According to White, every harvest, every tweak in the process and every batch produced is a learning opportunity, and it’s part of the excitement of being a winemaker.

  White says that the family’s winemaking journey started with his grandparents. “My grandpa Lawlor is the root of Galena Cellars,” said White. “He was this eccentric guy who just liked to do things out of the ordinary. One day, he decided to take a home winemaking class at a community college in Cedar Rapids. At the time, the popularity of wine was taking off on the West Coast, but there were little to no actual wineries throughout the Midwest. Grandpa Lawlor thought this had a chance to be something special, something unique and something they could all enjoy as a family. The idea kind of spiraled from there, and now, three generations later, here we are.”

  The current Galena Cellars and Vineyard location is actually the third winery opened by the family. In 1976, after graduating with her degree in enology from Fresno State University, Christina Lawlor, the family’s second-generation winemaker, opened Christina Wine Cellars in McGregor, Iowa. She produced 200 cases of cherry wine. Four years later, in 1980, a second location opened in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, in an old Milwaukee freight depot.

Finding the Perfect Spot

  It was in 1983 that the Lawlor family came across the location in Galena, Illinois, while on a trip to purchase grapes. Christina recruited her brother Scott and his wife Karan for help with this new family project. Galena Cellars opened in 1985, taking up residence in a restored 1840s granary building on Main Street. Following the opening, Galena Cellars celebrated its first annual Beaujolais Nouveau Wine Celebration and, in the process, gained further recognition when they were featured on The Today Show.

  Galena Cellars wine production grew, resulting in the family purchasing a farm on North Ford Road, just outside of Galena. This made it possible to move their wine production here to the farm and vineyard. It allowed them to start growing experimental grape varietals. It also came with expanded responsibilities, so the family decided to close the McGregor and LaCrosse locations to focus all their energy and resources on the farm and vineyard location.

  “We currently grow La Crosse, Marechal Foch and Petite Pearl, Verona on 4.5 acres,” said Christina Lawlor-White, second-generation winemaker. “Additionally, we have an experimental one-acre vineyard that we work on in conjunction with the NIWG (Northern Illinois Wine Growers). We have 12 vines responsible for 23 varieties. It sounds like a lot, but for me, it’s not a job, it’s a lifestyle. It’s hard work, but it’s also invigorating work. It’s still exciting, and it never gets old.”

  Galena Cellars and Vineyard offers tastings, tours and music at the vineyard. Additionally, guests are always invited to simply hang out and take in the beautiful vistas and all that the farm and vineyard have to offer. If interested, guests can take a more intimate stroll through the vineyards or soak up the area’s picturesque sunsets while enjoying the award-winning wines made right there on site.

  In 2004, five years after releasing its flagship wine, “Eric the Red,” named after Christine’s son Eric, Galena Cellars added a suburban tasting room and gift shop in downtown Geneva, Illinois.

  While offering the same great wines as the farm and vineyard location, the downtown space also featured music, tastings, wine-infused cocktails and small bites available from a full kitchen that perfectly paired with their wines.

A New Generation Continues the Family Legacy

  Galena Cellars’ history reveals a true family business success story. Several family members were included along the way, some even moving to the area to join the business. During this time, Christine Lawlor-White would go on to be named “Winemaker of the Year” three separate years by the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association, owning the title in 2002, 2008 and again in 2017.

  As additional family members completed their education in winemaking and joined the business, some of the others retired. It was in 2018 that Eric and Britt White were called on to continue the family legacy as third-generation winemakers. Eric is the current president and winemaker, and his sister Britt is Galena Cellars’ brand ambassador and wine club manager.

  Following family winemaker tradition, the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association named Eric “Winemaker of the Year” in 2019. Enhancing the ceremony, his mother, Christine, was the one to hand him the coveted award. Eric and Britt are now moving the winery forward, infusing their ideas and techniques into what the family has done before them, and the future looks as bright as the morning dew glistening off of their grapevines.

Family’s Work Ethic Continues Through Generations

  “We grew up in a rural lifestyle that was very different and very unique,” said Eric. “I never really understood the magnitude of what everyone was doing and all of the accomplishments that happened along the way. Looking back, it was a lifestyle of invigorating, hard work.”

  That hardworking family tradition keeps Eric and Britt determined to push the envelope and never shy away from new ideas, as long as they do so in a way that honors the traditions and legacy of the family members who started and grew Galena Cellars to where it is today.

  While many winemakers I speak to dread the harvest season for the endless hours and continuous deadlines that present themselves to get the grapes gathered and processed, this family seems to relish the harvest season. “The harvest is the most exciting time of the year for me,” said Eric. “It’s a second chance on winemaking. It’s when I can assess what I did right and what I did wrong and constantly improve from there. It’s when we can bring in new varieties from the vineyards we worked with in the past and create new styles or variations to offer our guests.”

  “We have a strong passion for perfecting what we do,” said Britt. “We want to stay small and remain unique, and we want to grow our wine club offerings and membership. We offer everything from dry reds to a fruit and dessert selection and everything in between. There is truly something for everyone in our lineup. Additionally, our wine club gives us the unique opportunity to try out new ideas in our cellar and produce unique, small-batch wine exclusively for the members.”

  Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery offers up to 70 varieties of wine. “We have five acres encompassing three varieties,” said Eric. “We use these three varieties to produce small batches of wine in various styles.”

  “We are working to find the perfect grape to grow in our climate,” said Christine Lawlor-White. “We have an experimental vineyard on the property that allows us to continue our quest to research these new varietals. Our terroir and environment matter as much as the finished product, so finding the perfect grape to grow in our climate can take years of research just on its own. Typically, our best sellers are our flagship, Eric the Red (marechal foch), our Oktoberfest (riesling and muscat blend), our General’s Reserve Red (a red blend of hybrid and vinifera varietals) and our locally sourced Edelweiss.”

  Lawlor-White also tells The Grapevine Magazine that the palates of their consumers continue to change, so their wines are evolving as well.

  “We work in depth with vinifera grapes and implement the education and technology learned from West Coast viniculture and apply that knowledge to our American French hybrid grapes,” said Lawlor-White. “Additionally, we focus on sourcing fruit from our local growers, as well as some of the best-growing regions available.”

  That strategy has served them well. Their awards are too numerous to list here. Yet, from Illinois State Fair Competitions to American Fine Wine Rosé Wine Competition and into Experience Rosé International Wine Competitions, there are enough silvers, golds and double-golds to impress even the most experienced wine consumer.

  “Winemaking is one of those businesses that typically is a family business,” said Lawlor-White. “It’s as if winemaking is in your blood! Each generation makes important contributions, and the wine just gets better and better.”

  “We are fortunate to work together and spend time as a family together doing things we all love to do,” added Britt.

Plan a Visit and Maybe Even a Stay

  Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery offers an updated tasting room and a wraparound deck to enjoy the unmatched views of the surrounding farmland and picturesque vineyard vistas. Guests are encouraged to stroll through the vineyard

and end their day with a glass of locally made wine while experiencing a memorable sunset in a farm and vineyard setting. For those who want an extended stay, Galena Cellars offers a cozy guest suite and quaint guest house that would be perfect for an extended stay. Treat yourself to a romantic getaway, a family get-together or a simple night away from the rigors and stresses of daily life.

  For more information, including award lists, or to book a stay, contact Galena Cellars Vineyard and Winery at:

Galena Cellars Vineyard

4746 N Ford Road

Scales Mound, Illinois, 61075


Galena Cellars Downtown

111 N Main Street

Galena, Illinois, 61036


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