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Wine country comes to Oak Park

Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant to open downtown on July 17

July 14th, 2017 2:10 PM

Updated: Jul. 16th, 2017 9:12 PM

Photo by TIMOTHY INKLEBARGER

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By Timothy Inklebarger

Staff Reporter

Cooper's Hawk Winery & Restaurant is set to open its newest location in downtown Oak Park – on the ground level of the Vantage Oak Park apartment building – on Monday, July 17.

The restaurant, located at 950 Lake St., opened its doors to the media and select guests Thursday afternoon to showcase the 12,000-square-foot space, which features an "artisan market," bar area, dining room and private rooms for special events.

"Oak Park is an historic a beautiful urban village," Cooper's Hawk president John Inserra said in a press release. "We look forward to becoming part of the fabric of this vital community – a place where people gather to unwind and reconnect over a great meal and a glass of wine."

It is the 28th location for the Countryside-based restaurant chain, but Cooper's Hawk, established in 2005, is more than a place to get a good glass of wine. Positioned as a lifestyle brand, the company also touts the largest wine club in the country with more than 250,000 members.

Wine club members get access to 12 limited-production Cooper's Hawk specialty blends per year along with members-only pricing and access to private Cooper's Hawk events, among other rewards and deals.

Cooper's Hawk points to its numerous awards – the company has earned more than 400 various awards, most recently winning Gold in the 2017 Indy International Wine Competition, the 2017 San Diego International Wine & Spirits Challenge and the 2017 International Eastern Wine Competition – as a reason for the brand's success.

But founder and CEO Tim McEnery told members of the media that one of the company's first awards was won as a result of an accident.

McEnery was the opening general manager of the first Cooper's Hawk location and was in the process of making a rhubarb wine, he explained.

It was McEnery's first time making a fruit wine and told his assistant to put 15 bags of sugar into the wine.

"You have to put sugar in it because fruit doesn't have as much sugar as grapes do. So in order to get the alcohol at a certain level, you ferment out all the sugar and then you have to put the sugar back when the wine is finished, otherwise it would be the most acidic, bitter [wine] – undrinkable," he said.

The assistant misheard and added 25 bags of sugar, sending McEnery into a panic.

"I just spent three months making this wine, and now we're going to have to throw it into the garbage," he said.

McEnery called a wine-making friend and was told that the only solution was to balance out the sweetness by bringing up the acidity level. About six months later, he received a call learning that the wine had won top prize in the sweet wine category of one of the largest wine competitions in the U.S.

"I just fell out of my chair," he said. "That was the biggest award we won in our first five years."

While wine is the focus at Cooper's Hawk – the company produces 5 million bottles a year – the restaurant offers an extensive lunch and dinner menu of 110 items by Executive Chef Matt McMillan, which draw from American, Asian, Mexican and numerous other influences.

The restaurant menu provides suggestions for varieties of wine for each dish in an effort to educate patrons and enhance their dining experience.

Among the menu items are moderately priced sandwiches and burgers, salads and the pricier entrees, which include: bourbon lacquered BBQ pork chops; short rib risotto; gnocchi with roasted butternut squash; southern grilled shrimp and polenta; and seared Atlantic salmon; among many more.

The restaurant is open Monday through Thursday 11 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 10:30 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.

* This article was updated to correct the spelling of Tim McEnery's name.

CONTACT: tim@oakpark.com