July 25, 2014

Regional Wine Fighting Its Way Into Chicago

Chicago is the third largest U.S. wine market by case sales ranking behind Los Angeles and New York. One would think that demand for regional wine in a Midwestern metropolis with 9.72 million residents would not be an issue. After all, Illinois was the fourth largest wine producing state before Prohibition.

However, regional wine sales do better the farther they get from Chicago, according to Doug Jeffirs, director of wine sales for the largest wine retailer in Chicago, Binny’s Beverage Depot. According to Jeffirs, Illinois and regional wines do better at Binny’s downstate stores than in Chicago. However, Jeffir’s did note that demand for regional wine is higher in the Chicago suburbs than the city.

“In Champaign, we have a much larger regional selection and in the Bloomington store (soon to open), we’ll have an even larger regional wine selection,” Jeffirs said. “In Chicago, regional wine is definitely a case-by-case basis. We let the consumer guide us on that.”

Jeffirs said he believes that downstate Illinois’ proximity to wineries helps drive regional wine sales there, citing the sales of Alto Vineyards, which has locations near Carbondale and in Champaign.

Jeffirs and other wine purchasers in the Chicago area report regional wine sales of zero to 2-to-3 percent of their total wine sales.

Jack Farrell, wine manager at the new Mariano’s Fresh Market on Elston Avenue in Chicago next to his regional wine display

However,  some Chicago retailers are increasing shelf space devoted to regional wine. At Mariano’s Fresh Markets, a rapidly expanding Chicago grocery store chain, there is a permanent display for 14 regional wines in each new store, according to Donna Goodwin of Midwest Wine Selections.

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Comments

  1. Richard Buck says:

    My wife, a couple of friends, and I have traveled to several Midwest states to sample wine. Our ‘winery tours’ have included trips to Southern Illinois, Central Missouri, Southeast Missouri, Northern Wisconsin (Door County area), Southern Indiana, Southern Ohio (around Cincinnati), Northern Michigan (Traverse City area), Southwest Missouri, and Kentucky. We have found that Midwest wines are just as good (if not better) and cheaper than California or European wines. It is frustrating that there are not more Midwest wines sold in the Chicago area. (We were all born in Chicago and now live about 30 miles Northwest of Chicago.) We do have a few stores here that sell a limited amount of MW wine. Jewel, Meiers, and Woodmans. We have purchased wines from St. Julian (SE Mich), Leelanau (Traverse City), and St.James (SE Missouri) in these stores. I wish that we could find more.
    The local distributors need to get more Midwest Wines into their stable and push harder for good shelf space. I believe that it will happen eventually. Chicago (basically Cook County) is a very hard area to break into as there are a lot of closely held interests regarding alcohol and who gets to sell it.
    Keep up the good reporting! We really enjoy reading about the local wineries as we have visited many of them.

    • Richard,
      So refreshing to read your comment! We are a distributor focusing on local/regional wines and ciders and we are working very hard to get more local wines on the shelf at retailers and by the glass at restaurants.
      You will find some good local wine selections in the NW ‘burbs at Dobby’s in Palatine, Mariano’s, Sunset Foods and other single retailers. You can visit our website or follow us on facebook to see as we add new sellers.
      Cheers to localpours!
      Kelly Kniewel