Old Mill Vineyard

Big-Time Wines from a Small-Town Winery

sign for old mill vineyard shown in grass and trees

By: Gerald Dlubala

  When it was time to move on from a career in the greens industry, where Kurt Grohsmeyer gained over three decades of experience growing everything from sod to shade trees, evergreens and everything else that grows in the ground, he and his wife Donna planted 400 grapevines on their rural Metamora Illinois property. Little did they know that by going in a different direction and planting grapevines to make wine for personal use and sharing with friends, that just nine years later, in 2014, they would successfully launch their own wine brand, Old Mill Vineyard Wines.

Increased Harvest, Tasting Room Addition Lead to a Full-Time Winery

  “Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing,” said Grohsmeyer. “We started on 10 tillable acres the first year, with eight different varietals being planted side by side on an acre and a half.

  We just wanted to see what would survive and what wouldn’t. And you know what? Almost everything grew successfully. After that, we planted in increments, adding another acre or two to fill the ten acres. There wasn’t a real plan. The process just kind of morphed into a philosophy of, well, this works, so we’ll add more of it.”

  Grohsmeyer researched the best varietals for his growing zone, meeting with the IGGVA (Illinois Grape Growers & Vintners Alliance) and conducting his own independent research. This gave him direction on which varietals to choose to increase the likelihood of success in his growing zone.

  “The eight initial varietals we planted the first year included four reds and four whites,” said Grohsmeyer. “They all grew well enough to expand each one into their own acre, filling up eight acres. That gave us two remaining acres to add two more varietals.” Another challenge presented itself when it came time to harvest.

  “That first year, we harvested about five tons of grapes,” said Grohsmeyer. “I could handle a little bit of grapes because I initially intended to make some dry-style wines for my wife and her friends. But what to do with the rest was the question. So, I got hooked up with another vineyard in the area and sold grapes to them. From there, everything just took off and exploded on us. We went from harvesting five tons that first year to a harvest of 50 tons of grapes. It was sometimes overwhelming, but that’s when we knew and decided it was time to go full-time with the vineyard.”

  The Old Mill Vineyard averages about 35 to 40 tons of grapes annually. Grohsmeyer still sells some of his grapes to his original buyer, but as his winery, vineyard and on-site tasting room grows in popularity, he finds himself keeping more and selling less.

  “Our buyer is very understanding,” said Grohsmeyer. “He’s the largest producer in Northern Illinois and maybe the state. Actually, he was the one who, while looking at his grapes here, convinced me to take advantage of our scenic views and rolling vistas and build my own tasting room to sell our wines on-site. It was in 2016 that our tasting room, Bent Tree at OMV, became a reality. But as we sell more through our tasting room, we have to keep more of our grapes. We do all our own production, including harvest, crush, fermentation and on-site bottling. Our grapes and wine go from our vineyard to the barn to the tasting room.”

 Scenic Vistas and Comfortable Surroundings Accompany Excellent Wines

  Our place is nothing real elaborate,” said Grohsmeyer. “I still consider Old Mill Vineyard a cottage-type winery and vineyard. Most of the surrounding area is rural farmland, but in contrast, our property features beautiful rolling ground and timber, with a pond and barn setting. I built a tasting room building, planning to have enough seating I’ll ever need. Our tasting room can comfortably seat 30 to 40 inside, and we have as much outdoor seating as indoor.”

  Grohsmeyer tells The Grapevine Magazine that their busiest times start when the weather breaks in spring and last through late fall and early winter when the weather can turn nasty. But the Old Mill Vineyard is a great gathering spot all year round.

  “Our guests and visitors are welcome to come and sit wherever they choose,” said Grohsmeyer. “We can accommodate them indoors, out on the patio or folks are always welcome to bring lawn chairs and blankets to sit and hang out by the pond. We’ve even had people bring bouncy houses for their kids. That’s the situation and atmosphere that we want to promote. Our priority is for everyone to gather, feel welcome and enjoy good wine in our beautiful, well-shaded surroundings. We are kind of hidden from the road. Our entrance is on a corner sheltered by trees, so people tend to drive past a lot without even knowing we’re here. I would guess that some residents of Metamora don’t even know we are here. But once you pull off the road and get here, the landscape changes from the normal cornfields to the beautiful rolling hills of our vineyard.”

Follow Your Passion, Don’t Be Afraid to Experiment

  As happens frequently in the craft or cottage wine industry, what starts as a passionate hobby transforms into a small business. This was the case with Grohsmeyer. But along the way, he never stopped asking questions, seeking solutions or learning the processes for his local growing zone.

    “We started by making dry wines without any real experience,” said Grohsmeyer. “I’m not an experienced winemaker. I never did it before, and I never went to school or had any formal education in winemaking. I’ve never had or followed anyone else’s recipes, and to date, I have only delivered my grapes to two different buyers. But, when delivering grapes, I hung around and helped crush my grapes. I talked to the winemakers and asked questions about what, how and why they were doing the things they did. For me, it was a common sense and straightforward way to gain experience, gather information and learn the initial things in real time that I needed to do from current successful producers in my area. My current buyer has taught me the most of all. I use him as a resource for any questions and have no concerns about following his advice.”

  Grohsmeyer said that when he started making wine, he didn’t have enough vessels to put the wine in and, at the time, didn’t really know where to turn for more storage. He was fortunate to obtain a few used bourbon barrels from a friend’s trip. Grohsmeyer used them to store the excess wine and actually kind of forgot about them for six months. This was back in 2009, before it became the “in” thing to do in the craft wine and beverage market.

  “As it turns out, when we decided to try the wine that came out of them, it was excellent,” said Grohsmeyer. “The wine is a really good, nice dry red with a soft hint of bourbon. Now, this same red wine made from the Chancellor grape that gets aged six to 12 months in used Four Roses bourbon barrels and named Broken Barrel is a mainstay on our menu. It’s a wine for those who say they may not be a wine fan but prefer bourbon. Our Broken Barrel wine often turns non-wine drinkers into fans. It remains in the top two or three in popularity behind our Frontenac Blanc, our youngest and most popular grape. It’s a dry to semi-dry white wine that is a summer best-seller, maybe reminiscent of a Riesling. Everything here is cyclical. Winter and colder temperatures bring more popularity for the heavier reds. But honestly, you can think you made enough of a certain type and then find yourself taking two or three cases to the tasting room every weekend.”

Offering Quality Wine Choices for All Tastes Is Key

  Grohsmeyer said that they started out serving dry wine and continue to draw regular customers for those wines. As their visitor base grew, requests for sweeter wines increased, so Old Mill Vineyard also added those to its wine offerings.

  “Now we run about 60 percent dry and 40 percent sweet,” said Grohsmeyer. “We found that the actual grape varietal isn’t that much of an issue with sweet wines, as long as the proper flavor and sweetness level is there. Currently, we keep about 16 wines on the shelf. Twelve are varietal wines labeled by the grape type. The remaining sweet wines are generally a table grape of any varietal.

  Additionally, we offer a selection of national and craft beer, cider, seltzers, pop and sparkling options for non-wine drinkers. Whenever some of the local breweries get to the point of being able to can their products for distribution, we’ll certainly expand our local brew options.”

Having Fun While Working Hard

  “We are very much hands-on in the entire operation,” said Grohsmeyer.  “And although the work is demanding, both physically and timewise, we are out here still having fun.”

  Grohsmeyer started his winemaking journey at 50 years of age, which he says would probably have most people starting to think about a retirement plan. But he is proud to still be out there every day doing something in the vineyard or other related area. With his wife Donna, they run the Old Mill Vineyard operation from vineyard to tasting room to retail. Donna is in the tasting room every weekend. They have no immediate plans to slow down, as this is their retirement.

  “If you don’t have anything to do, you sit in the chair and gripe about the news or something,” said Grohsmeyer. “We’ll do it until we can’t. Even on days that I can’t get out into the vineyard due to the weather, I’ll still work in the winery or fix machinery. There really is always something to do. And when the vineyard is in your front and backyard, it’s hard to walk away from it.”

  Old Mill Vineyard wines are distributed in local stores, retail outlets and several places in nearby Peoria, about 25 minutes east of Metamora. Tastings also occur at retail liquor outlets, and some smaller customers may buy a case a month to sell to their patrons. Additionally, their wines are available in some local brewery taprooms.

  “You know, we don’t spend any money on advertising, and frankly, there’s probably people in our town that don’t even know we are here,” said Grohsmeyer. “We always believed that word of mouth would be enough, and we remain busy, even surprisingly so sometimes. Sometimes, we’re busier than we want, but we’re certainly not turning people away. That’s obviously what you want as a business. We’ve built up a great group of regulars and gain new ones all the time. One thing is for sure: it’s never the same. Even now, every weekend is a learning experience. And that’s just fine with us.”

  In addition to its inclusive wine line-up, Old Mill Vineyard offers a selection of crackers, cheeses and dips. Guests may also bring in their own food and snacks. Visitors are not allowed to bring outside alcohol onto the property.

  For more information on Old Mill Vineyard and its selection of wines, contact:

Old Mill Vineyard

700 Coon Creek Rd.

Metamora, Illinois 61548

(309) 258-9952


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