The Scene

Fergedaboutit Vineyard & Winery in northwest Illinois combines gorgeous views with a taste of Italy

Fergedaboudit's three-acre vineyard provides French hybrid grapes used for some of its wines, all grown on sloped soil specially suited for superior grape growing. Visitors can roam about them while enjoying their wine.

The verdant hills of Jo Daviess County offer incredible views, from atop its apexes to the bottoms of its rolling ridges.

But there’s more than meets the eye. Lying beneath the lay of the land is soil that makes for great grapes, and that makes for great wine.

Head to the small village of Hanover and follow the signs to a place with a name that’s easy to remember and scenery that’s hard to forget. It’s there that the Bruno family invites you to stop by their vineyard and winery to unwind, soak in the scenery and enjoy a glass or two.

Or as they like to say, “Sit back. Relax, and Fergedaboudit!”

That rich soil has also helped something else grow: a family legacy. Rosario Bruno, a retired electrical contractor, started the Fergedaboudit Vineyard and Winery as a hobby after moving from Chicago in 2000. Since then, it’s grown into a full-fledged family operation, with wife Sandra, daughters Vicki Olson and Veronica Madsen and sons-in-law Jim and Ben pitching in, helping turn his passion into a business that started welcoming wine lovers 10 years ago to its tasting room, outdoor overlooks and event space for private parties and celebrations, as well as seasonal weekly concerts.

Rosario Bruno moved to the scenic hilly area around Hanover in 2000 after retiring from city life in Chicago. For nearly 25 years, his grapes grown at Fergedaboudit have made unique flavors of wine.

Veronica and Jim’s children, Chandler and ReAnna, have also helped out since they were kids. Now college-aged, Chandler has become Jim’s right-hand man in the vineyard: pruning and caring for the vines. ReAnna has taken an interest in the chemistry of winemaking, taking her talents to the tasting room where she helps customers choose the right wine.

While the grapes give the wine its flavor, Vicky and Veronica have helped give the business its flavor. Veronica has brought a taste of Italy to the surroundings, designing it to look like a slice of Tuscany, and Vicki promotes it and arranges for the entertainment.

Warm and welcoming surroundings invite customers to enjoy glasses or flights of wine, along with finger foods, at tables inside, outside in the gazebo, or on the patio, where the gentle sounds of a waterfall drift through the air, set against the bucolic backdrop of The Driftless Area.

“We call it our little slice of heaven, and we like to share it with everybody,” Vicki said. “Our gazebo out there is something special — people can sit out there and we’ve heard a lot of compliments about the peacefulness and the serenity, or it making them feel like they are in Tuscany or in some other part of Europe.

“It’s all about taking people away from their worries are.”

Jaime Schmidt of Fergedaboudit Vineyard and Winery pours a drink for a customer from the tasting room.

Around 20 different kinds of wines are offered at any time, about two-thirds are fine reds and the others are whites and rosés. The wine roster includes those made with grapes grown in their vineyard, as well as some with grapes from Chile and Lodi, California.

Some of the several reds on the menu include dries Sangiovese, Cabernet Franc, Carméneré, Ba-Da Bing, and Rosario’s Private Reserve; and sweet red Ba-Da Boom. Whites include Chardonnay, Charcato, Moscato, and Three Blondes, named after the color of Sandy, Vicky and Veronica’s hair. Menus available both at the front counter and online give detailed descriptions of each bottle, as well as what foods they best pair with.

There’s also a port-styled dessert-flavored wine, Poppi’s Dolce Vino, a light, sweet and medium dry with hints of chocolate; it’s an after-dinner variety that pairs well with cheeses or chocolate brownies.

Tastings, one ounce each of up to six varieties are offered — but not on Saturdays, and not when there’s a lot of customer traffic at the winery.

Wine isn’t just found in glasses — it can also be found on Fergedaboudit’s plates, in wine-infused fudge and cookies. Veronica’s Vino Drizzle, with the alcohol cooked out of it, can serve as a wine topping, dressing or glaze for sweet and savory foods such as pancakes, crepes, cakes or ice creams.

“It is one of our biggest sellers,” Vicki said. “People just eat that stuff up; you can put it on just about anything from pork tenderloins to cooked peaches to cheeses, other meats and ice cream. It’s delicious. We get people that email us or call us and tell us that they had just tried it on anything.”

Enjoying a glass of wine is done in a peaceful, quiet setting at Fergedaboudit, complete with unique views of Driftless Area topography.

Not the kind of person who warms up to wine? You can still get a bit of the vine in a Freezie di Vino wine slushie, which can be made with any wine. Domestic beers and blends from the Potosi Brewing Co. are sold, as well as Potosi’s non-alcoholic root beer.

In recent years, the Brunos have been working to expand Fergedaboudit’s footprint, making as much of a destination as a winery/vineyard. From 1:30 to 5 p.m. on Saturdays from May to October, it hosts free concerts with genres ranging from acoustic rock to easy listening.

In addition to the free Saturday concerts, premium concerts — with dinner included as part of the ticket price — are on tap. The first was June 15 with The Tony Ocean Show playing music of the Rat Pack, disco and rock. The next premium concert is at 6:30 p.m. July 27 with Vince Amore and Daniela Crocco performing songs from artists such as Tony Bennett, Elvis, Etta James and Donna Summer. Fall’s premium concerts are on Sept. 21 with pop-opera duet Jeorge Holmes and Diva Montell, and on Oct. 5 with a Rat Pack-style concert featuring Tony Ocean, Vince Amore, Elliot Wimbush and Bill Serritella; both fall concerts also start at 6:30 p.m. Go to to buy tickets or for more information about either series of concerts.

“It’s beautiful entertainment,” Vicki said. “There are great dinners, and it’s an evening that people can keep coming back for. We get a lot of people who ask when [the acts] are coming back. We also have people who don’t know about us, so we’re trying to get the word out that we’re here.”

Rosario grew up in the Little Italy neighborhood of Chicago, where winemaking was popular among residents. When he was young, many winemakers gathered at the train stations eagerly awaiting shipments of grapes, Vicki said, and by the time Rosario was making his own from his basement, the Italian markets around him had plenty in stock for him.

At first, making wine was just a hobby. His job as electrician helped pay the bills. As retirement approached, the seeds of the next chapter in his life were planted. Someone told him about how the hills of the Galena area were prime land for grapes. It wasn’t long before he found a spot for sale, and immediately fell in love with it, Vicki said.

“He just has a true passion for it,” Vicki said. “Someone told him about the beautiful rolling hills outside of Galena, and how it allows for growing fantastic grapes on the perfect slopes that we now have. He went out here and bought this piece of property.”

The vineyard predates the actual business by 13 years. At first it was simply a place where he grew grapes and shared his wine with friends and family, but as Rosario grew older, he wanted his passion, like the vines he tended, to keep growing, and remain in the family. He and his family talked and together they decided to turn his hobby into a business.

“For the first 13 years, it was a labor of love and a gigantic hobby,” Vicki said. “We weren’t selling wine or having customers, but he would invite his friends over and sit on the porch and pour them some of his homemade wines. Dad said it was his legacy and that it will always be in the family, and we then decided to open. It just keeps flourishing.”

And the business isn’t done flourishing yet. The next generation of Brunos have plans to keep to keep it going, and growing.

“This year I’m hoping to bring it to the next level,” Vicki said. “My dad’s 85, and I want him to see the full success of it, and how such a special place can bring together so many people.”

Cody Cutter

Cody Cutter

These days, Cody Cutter primarily writes for Sauk Valley Media's "Living" magazines and specialty publications in northern Illinois, including the monthly "Lake Lifestyle" magazine for Lake Carroll. He also covers sports and news on occasion; he has covered high school sports in northern Illinois for more than 20 years in online and print formats.