April 14, 2024

20th anniversary celebration at winery includes ag education

WATERMAN, Ill. — Growing grapes and making wine have been part of Tuntland Farms for 20 years.

The fourth generation farm operation celebrated the 20th anniversary of Waterman Winery & Vineyards recently with a two-day open house.

“We started with three varieties and over the years the universities have come up with new French-American hybrids, so we kept adding varieties and now we have 40 kinds of grapes in the vineyard,” said Terrie Tuntland, owner of the operation together with his wife, Alexa.

The 12-acre vineyard includes red and white grapes and the family handcrafts about 20 different wines on their farm in DeKalb County.

Visitors to the winery have the opportunity to tour the vineyards.

“So many people have no association with agriculture, so having them come here and see what’s really happening is a big plus,” Terrie said. “A lot of them enjoy talking to someone who is actually farming.”

The farm includes about 1,500 acres where the family grows corn and soybeans. Their children, John, Todd, Kendra and Trisha, are involved with different aspects of the operation.

“We added a 2.5-acre pond and fire pit to the vineyard, so it makes a nice place to come down and relax,” Terrie said.

“The pond increases the humidity of the vineyard and when grapes grow in a humid environment they make more of an antioxidant called resveratrol,” Alexa said. “The grapes make the antioxidants to protect themselves from fungal infections.”

The Tuntlands are focused on sustainability for their operation in many ways, including the recycling of wood from old farm buildings.

“We built that bridge from recycled barn wood,” Terrie said.

During the anniversary celebration, the Soybean Adventure was set up near the tasting room in the barn for visitors to learn about the importance of soybeans.

“We are trying to teach people about all the uses of soybeans,” Terrie said. “Illinois is the top producing state for soybeans, yet there is no festival for soybeans.”

Some of the displays were interactive like the bag toss that featured soybeans in the bags from the farm and painting activity with soy-based paint.

Other displays showed uses of soybeans in products including a Goodyear tire, soy candles, sandals, plywood put together with soybean adhesive and a mattress that contains soybean-based foam.

“These license plates were my aunt’s that she kept from during World War II,” Terrie said. “Because of the metal shortage, they went to soybean fibers for the license plates.”

Henry Ford was one of the early pioneers in doing research about soybeans, Terrie said.

“He started in the 1930s and this is my uncle’s 1930 truck,” Terrie said. “There are 13,251 soybeans in every Ford vehicle built today, including the soybean foam material in the seats.”

Currently, the Tuntlands are working to cover the grape vines with nets to protect the grapes from birds.

“We usually start covering the vines Aug. 1 because once the birds get a taste for the grapes, it is really tough to get rid of them,” Terrie said. “Some vines we don’t cover because birds don’t seem to want those grapes and others we have to cover right away.”

Grape harvest typically starts at the end of August.

“September is the big month for harvesting grapes,” Terrie said. “And when we finish harvesting grapes it will be time for soybean harvest and then corn.”

All the grapes are picked by hand.

“We take off the whole cluster and run them through a destemmer/crusher that separates the berries and the stems and breaks the skin to get the juice out,” Terrie said. “The skins are where the color is, so for red wine we ferment the juice with the skins and if it’s a white wine, the skins are removed right away and then we keep the juice to ferment.”

“There are a lot of nutrients in our wines because we do the picking and start the fermentation process in the same day,” Trisha said. “Nothing goes on a truck, the grapes come right out of the vineyard and into the fermentation process, so we preserve the nutrients in the wine, which is unique.”

A 5K Vineyard Run was a new activity recently held at the winery in partnership with Safe Passage of DeKalb County. The course included running through the vineyard, as well as a cornfield and next to a soybean field.

“A lot of people have a fitness drive and we wanted to offer a running experience in a setting where they’re also learning,” Trisha said. “So, they are running through the vineyard and then they are able to drink the wine.”

Safe Passage is focused on offering resources to people in need.

“We made a donation for their efforts and also a portion of the sales on the day of the race also went to Safe Passage,” Trisha said. “We’re trying to support efforts within our community.”

Waterman Winery & Vineyards, 11582 Waterman Road, Waterman, is open from noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. For more information, call 815-264-3268 or go to www.watermanwinery.com.

Martha Blum

Martha Blum

Field Editor