While the Southern Illinois Wine Trail attracts thousands of visitors each year, one small winery hidden among the trees just off Route 13 near Carbondale offers a unique, tranquil and personal touch.
"Hello! How are you today?" David Ponce asks those he welcomes to the tasting room. The friendliness and hospitality at Monte Alegre keep customers like Doug Cross of Goreville coming back.
"I'm replenishing my supply," Cross says as he enjoys a tasting sample while waiting on his
order to be filled.
David and Beth Ponce founded Monte Alegre Farm in 1987, just two years after moving to Carbondale. The venue originally was a horse training and breeding operation with a farm of hay and row crops that included three very old grapevines.
When it was determined the vines were Fredonia, totally adapted for the area habitat, the Ponces began making wine. A meeting with the Renzaglia family in the early 1990s led to the planting of a commercial vineyard in 1996.
The Renzaglia family was instrumental in the rebirth of the grape and wine industry in Illinois. After selling grades, juice, and bulk and bottled wine to other Illinois wineries, the Ponces opened their tasting room in 2009.
Today, Monte Alegre wines are sold exclusively from the vineyard and cellars where the wines are still produced and aged.
In addition to running the winery, the Ponces have taken their love for the wine industry to a higher level. Both professional engineers, the Ponces also operate a consulting business, pH Wine Engineering, to share their knowledge of winemaking both nationally and internationally.
Monte Alegre is open from 1 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and 2 to 6 p.m. Sundays. Although the tasting room is closed Mondays and Tuesdays, the Ponces invite their customers to call for an appointment "in case of a social emergency or a critically low wine inventory," David says with a laugh.
Monte Alegre is located on the east side of Carbondale just a quarter mile north of Route 13 off Reed Station Road. The winery also is online at poncecellars.com.