By CINDY LADAGE
ALTO PASS, Ill. — Following the apple is easy in Alto Pass – whether coming right off the tree at Von Jakob’s Vineyard and Brewery or from Rendleman Orchards, Von Jakob’s Jonathan apples end up as a fine drink with little distance between the tree and bottle.
The apples are stock for Von Jakob’s Jonathan Apple sweet wine and Streakin’ Johnny Hard Apple Cider, which was inspired by Johnny Appleseed, who helped introduce apple trees to large parts of the Midwest.
Kevin Flinn, who has been at Von Jakob’s for more than a year, said, “Apples for the cider are grown on-site or come from Rendleman Orchards. As soon as the apples are ripe, we use them for the wine and the hard cider. Our hard cider just won Best of Category at the Illinois State Fair competition this year.”
Von Jakob has been brewing German-style beer since 2010 and boasts eight styles of handcrafted beer as well as seasonal batches. It is in the process of bottling a number of beers only available for purchase at the brewery, but will soon be available throughout southern Illinois.
“There are only four winners of double gold medals in Illinois,” Flinn proudly explained. “Von Jakob’s, Alto Vineyards, Orlandini and Blue Sky.”
With the Alto Pass location sporting a large wine-tasting room and even a luncheon menu, several visitors stopped by even on a quiet Thursday, showing business is at a steady stream in this little town. Out behind the tasting room, the deck provides a panoramic view of the orchards and vineyards with a backdrop of the Shawnee National Forest. Many a bride chooses this location for her wedding and it is a popular place for other events.
With white, red and honey mead wines, there are more than 20 choices. “Ridge Red is our best-selling wine,” Flinn said. “It is made from Concord grapes. Kroshenfeler, a sweet wine blend of Vidal Blanc and Concord, has won double gold on a national level.”
He explained the Honey Mead series of wines Von Jakob Vineyard sells has 75 percent fermented honey and 25 percent juice. “We got the recipe from the owner’s grandmother, who came from Germany,” he said, adding part of the term “honeymoon” comes from a bride’s dowry when the father-in-law supplied a month’s worth of honey mead for the marriage.
“My favorite is the Honey Raspberry.”
Dr. Paul Jakob, an optometrist, is the owner of Von Jakob. “He is a Renaissance man,” Flinn said. “He has a degree in culinary arts and started offering four-course dinners last fall after we opened our banquet room. Our chef, Robert Miller, I’d argue is one of the best chefs around.”
Opening in 1996, Paul and Rhonda Jakob planted grapes outside their family home and the business continues to thrive and grow. With the weekend four-course dinners and lodging at their bed and breakfast cottages, a visit to the vineyard can be a weekend stay. More information is available at http://vonjakobvineyard.com
Down the road from Von Jakob’s, Rendleman Orchards is a family business that has been operational since 1873, with peaches, nectarines, apples and vegetables. Harvest runs from June-December. Visitors to Rendleman’s can also enjoy their jams, jellies pickled items and other specialty food items. Log onto www.rendlemanorchards.com for more information.