Michael Dorf stood with his brother Josh, smiling over the barrel filled with wine from grapes they'd just crushed, fermented, and pressed. He claims that despite tastings and classes, he'd never begun to understand wine until this moment. As his understanding grew, he laid the foundations for City Winery: a full winery facility, restaurant, and concert venue inside urban Chicago. He now watches over more than 400 international wines and 20 house wines. Inside the winery, these wines—made from nine US and international varietals—age inside stainless steel tanks and American and French oak barrels. Here, staffers lead winemaking classes, letting visitors join the crushing and fermenting process, and showing them how make private barrels and fill custom juice boxes or bottles pasted with labels of their own design.
These monolithic tanks and barrels can be seen through floor-to-ceiling windows from most of the restaurant's rooms, where servers ferry Executive Chef Andres Barrera's dishes, each a blend of Italian, French, Spanish, and Middle-Eastern flavors. The culinary team crafts small and large plates of artisanal cheeses, seafood, and flatbreads—which they make using the winery's own wine lees as yeast. In the restaurant and Barrel Room tasting bar, staffers pour housemade wines piped fresh from the cellar through 14 taps, while visitors bask in the glow from hard wood and floor to ceiling windows. Patrons dine on a ground floor lit by soft blue lights and hanging lamps fashioned from old wine bottles, as well as a mezzanine level looking out on the city skyline. Private dining rooms gather guests around long communal tables, stretched between exposed brick walls. In the show venue, comedians, live musicians, and slapstick-prone stage crew members entertain audiences under the glow of tabletop candles.
The experts at Wine Discount Center taste wine like it’s their job—because it is, actually. Every month, they taste hundreds of wines, assessing each one’s color, aroma, flavor, body, knowledge of American history, and finish in the same manner that the critics of Wine Spectator and Wine Advocate use to grade wines on their 100-point scales. This never-ending sampling and scoring lets Wine Discount Center’s team continually update and hone the selection at each location, regularly announcing new finds on the company's website and ensuring each bottle it stocks is worthy of 85 points or more. The oenophiles further enhance guests’ enjoyment of their wines by leading in-store tastings every Saturday at noon.
At childhood birthday parties, my father often told me, “You know what would make this day even more special? A bottle of wine.” And he was right. No matter the occasion, whether it’s a wedding, a Jewish holiday, or breakfast, a great bottle of wine can help commemorate life’s most significant events. Here in the Groupon office, we’ve been excitedly dreaming up personalized wine labels to commemorate the important events in our lives. Here are a few labels our staff is anxious to create with today’s Groupon:
Bev Art Brewer & Winemaker Supply helps brewmasters and vintners around Chicago take their concoctions from plan to reality with wine- and-beer-making gear. Industrious hobbyists can grab their own malt extracts and carboys here, and beginners can get started with wine and beer kits. The shop also stocks brains with the skills to needed to bottle new masterpieces, hosting classes taught by brewers, winemakers, cheese-crafters, and mead-makers. The experts also contribute to some of the shop's own potions; their Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery produces barrels of honey wine made by bees who spend years squashing grapes with their tiny feet.
Surrounded by yellow walls and gleaming bottles of fine wines and craft beers, patrons test new additions to the store's inventory during tasting classes. At sessions accompanied by light appetizers, knowledgeable staff members pour samples of six select wines and explain what makes each wine unique and how its flavor profile will pair with entrees or desserts. In addition to libations, the store's wooden racks hold wine accessories such as aerators and bottle decorations and gift baskets filled with chocolates. Custom label creations are also available to personalize bottles for weddings, anniversary celebrations, or protection inside the office refrigerator.
With its massive selection of varietals and styles, Lynfred Winery seems determined to make something for almost any wine drinker. The cellar brims with everything from bold, spicy reds to crisp and refreshing whites, as well as fruit wines made from apples, cherries, rhubarb, and pears. The grapes arrive from vineyards throughout California and Washington state, although the rest of the fruit typically comes from a bit closer to home, including growers throughout Michigan and Wisconsin. Despite this variety, the staff's commitment to approachable, fruit-forward flavors characterizes virtually everything that the winery makes.
This dedication to easy drinking seems only natural given the winery's origins in a home basement. In 1975, Fred Koehler, along with his wife Lynn, decided to try to re-create the family wines his father and grandfather had made throughout the 1920s. The batches grew larger with each passing vintage, and, in 1979, Fred and Lynn chose to upgrade their homespun hobby into a commercial venture. Within six years, Lynfred Winery's creations began to appear in the national spotlight as they garnered awards and medals from wine competitions across the country. This attention allowed Fred to swell production even more, eventually expanding to a larger location in 1990.
Fred and Lynn's legacy continues to inspire the staff as they operate a facility that creates more than 100,000 gallons of wine each year using as many as 80 varietals. These wines appear on restaurant menus, on retail shelves, and inside fish tanks throughout the Chicagoland area.
Rudolph Valentino DiTommaso has 5,000 growing children to look after. That's how many vines are on the viticulturist's estate, a 20-acre stretch of ripening grapes in Long Grove. Throughout the season, Rudolph and his team harvest their fruits and age their elixirs in barrels made of French and American oak to yield more than 20 types of wine, instead of just one weird smoothie. And they take just as much delight in showing off their libations as they do in making them. The vineyard regularly hosts seminars and tastings, which guests can pair with tours of the vineyard.