2010 Parley Street, Nauvoo, IL 62354
A lack of supplies and difficult living conditions forced the Icarians, a group following the ideals of French philosopher Ètienne Cabet, to leave its Texas colony and head north, eventually stopping in Nauvoo, Ill.
The Icarians bought the town’s Temple Square from the Latter-day Saints shortly after. Emile Baxter, founder of Baxter’s Vineyards, came to Nauvoo in 1855 to join the Icarians. Kim Orth, a sixth-generation Baxter and accountant for the winery, says the Icarians established much of the foundation for current-day Nauvoo.
“They bought that and built apartments, a school house — they did operate as a communal-type society for a while in Nauvoo,” Orth explains. “Then it disbanded, and some of the members went to Corning, Iowa, where the Icarian society lasted for another 50 years or so.”
Although many of the Icarians left the area after the society’s disbandment, Baxter decided to stay. He built a winery based off the knowledge he had garnered from his Icarian friends. Because of this, Baxter’s is now the oldest operating winery in Illinois.
To help showcase that history, Orth has been working closely with the Illinois Humanities Council and the Smithsonian Institute to implement Journey Stories, an exhibit that describes the area’s personal heritage.
“It’s really generating a lot of local excitement,” Orth says. “It tells the rest of Nauvoo’s history — not just the [Latter-day Saints] portion.”
Orth says current and previous generations of Baxters have sought to incorporate history into the winery’s processes as much as possible, including the tradition of keeping antique equipment and showcasing old awards.
One such tradition includes naming its wines after important pieces of the winery’s history, including the Icarians, Orth’s father and Nauvoo.
“I won’t let them name a wine after me,” Orth says with a laugh. “The Purple Fang was the one we teasingly named after Dad because he always had purple teeth as he was drinking wine. Then the Icarian Red and White tie back to our Icarian heritage.”
Carol Zumdome, owner of Carol’s Pies at Baxter’s, has been in the area for more than 40 years. She says the community’s help has been essential to the surrounding smaller businesses, including Baxter’s. However, Zumdome says she fears that support may change if individuals stop taking an interest in the winery or other community businesses.
“The winery’s been here a long, long time, but that doesn’t mean it will always be here if they don’t support it,” Zumdome explains.
Visitors like John Sherrill are part of the reason why the winery has remained in Nauvoo for more than 100 years. He started coming to Baxter’s for his own winemaking expeditions three or four years ago, though he began making wine much earlier than that.
“I’ve helped my uncle and my mom make wine since I was younger,” he explains. “Around the Nauvoo area, it seems to be fairly prominent.”
Sherrill says he attempts to make a couple visits to the winery per year. He enjoys the small-town vibe and says Baxter’s has made every effort to accommodate what he may need, including supplying the brix, or sugar content, of the wine; the types of yeast he can use; and grape juice, if he needs it.
“They’ve always seemed very helpful and polite,” Sherrill says. “I’ve never ever bought juice from any other winery.”