In 2008, Mike and Lori Nikonovich opened Grafton Winery in downtown Grafton, Illinois, inside a two-story building overlooking the confluence of the Mississippi and Illinois rivers. Less than a year later, the couple opened the Brewhaus on-site, offering a range of house craft beers.
In the past decade, Grafton Winery & Brewhaus has seen major expansion, growing to seat more than 500 between its tasting room, dining room and outdoor patios. At first, house wines were made with grape juice purchased from other local wineries, but in 2015, the Nikonovichs planted their first Chardonel, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles vines on a separate property in Grafton, now known as The Vineyards.
Today, all of the winery’s production happens at The Vineyards, which is open to the public year-round on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and daily from June through October.
Tell us about the Chardonel, Vidal Blanc and Vignoles grapes you grow at The Vineyards. Those were planted in 2015. We had never had vineyards before; we would bring in [grape] juice, and we still do. We wanted to plant those three whites, because we thought those would be the best-sellers for the area. The Chardonel was planted with the thought in mind of blending it with the Vidal Blanc, and that’s what we’ve done. We had our first harvest in 2017 and had quite a bit more during harvest last year. We do a different label for these wines – we call it The Vineyards Series – and it went over well at our two locations, so now the distributors have picked it up; soon it will start showing up in stores.
And what about the beers offered at the downtown location? Those are made right on-site. When we started Grafton Winery, we wanted to offer beer – domestics, but also something unique and something of our own. We didn’t know it at the time, but we were the first winery in Illinois to have a winemaking permit and also a brewer’s permit. Jason Woods, who brews [our] beers, changes it up a little bit, but there’s always a Pilsner, wheat, stout, IPA, red ale and one seasonal. When we opened The Vineyards and moved the wine production there, we gained space at the downtown location to expand the brewery, and now [Woods] has a little more room to be creative. The beers are all served on draft and people can bring in growlers as well. We don’t distribute those – just the wines.
The downtown location serves a full food menu and The Vineyards serves boxed lunches. What are some of the best-sellers? Burgers, by far, are the No. 1 seller [downtown]. We’ve always been known for our burgers. They’re half-pound, certified Angus beef, and they’re really good. And the specials – that allows us to try new things without having to be tied down to the menu. So we’ve got our basic menu, which has the staples – salads, sandwiches, burgers, tacos – but the kitchen has really done a great job with the specials, including a lot of seafood. At The Vineyards, you can bring a picnic basket or snacks, and we’re now serving boxed lunches in addition to allowing guests to bring in their own food.
What’s next for the businesses? We’ve been working on expanding our distribution, and as we get more and more capacity built up, we’re hoping to be over in Missouri. We’re pretty well statewide in Illinois except for Chicago, and we’re going to make sure we have the capacity before we go into Chicago and Missouri. In Illinois, we’re getting hit pretty hard, which is a good thing – we’re top five in Illinois for wine production. Last year was around 14,000 cases, I believe. It’s a good feeling.
Grafton Winery & Brewhaus, 300 W. Main St., Grafton, Illinois, 618.786.3001, thegraftonwinery.com
The Vineyards, 21028 Eckert Orchard Road, Grafton, Illinois, 618.786.3004, thegraftonwinery.com/vineyards