The SOMM Journal

October / November 2016

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130 { THE SOMM JOURNAL } OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2016 closing time SUBURBAN CHICAGO NATIVE MITCH EINHORN'S FATHER was an enophile, and his parents drank wine for dinner every night. "I thought it was normal," says Einhorn, "even if it was atypical for suburbia in the '70s." After he moved away from home, "wine became more and more a part of my everyday life," he remembers, calling it "a long, thirsty story." When he opened his first eating establishment—the "family biker bar" Twisted Spoke— in Chicago's West Town in 1994, he tried implementing a wine program, but soon found that among his clientele "the love of whiskey and beer was more pervasive" (not to men- tion that the opening staff 's vocabulary about wine was "limited to the monosyllabic words red and white"). By the time of his second restaurant—the barbecue joint Bone Daddy—"I was hell-bent on having a more interesting wine program," laughs Einhorn. "That got me more involved in wine in a much bigger way. Trying to find wines that paired well with an assorted number of barbecue styles was a challenge—as was trying to get people to understand which wines paired with those types of food. The over-extracted, high-alcohol style was what everyone coveted at that time. It's the Old World type I'm enamored with—much easier to pair with food." As Einhorn met more and more winemakers and experienced more tasting rooms while visiting California, he thought, "Why is there nothing like this in Illinois, specifically in Chicago?" He disliked those "cold, inhospitable warehouse-style stores with fluorescent lighting." He thought a wine shop should be "a tasting room, where people are knowledgeable about wine, about the attributes of the growing regions, about why this winemaker is doing some - thing nobody else is doing. Where there's always wine open, always a conversation." Enter Lush Wine & Spirits, the retail shop that Einhorn opened in 2005. It struck a chord with wine lovers. "People wouldn't leave," Einhorn recalls. "Customers would just hang out for hours and open their wines right there in the store." Eventually, he moved store across the street and added seating—a feature lacking in the first shop. A year afterward, a second store opened; then Einhorn rented the storefront next-door for a winebar and sidewalk café. Evolving Lush into an "all-encompassing experience—with no corkage—seemed to resonate with people," Einhorn says. Today, with a third location about to open in Evanston, Einhorn stocks a manageable 400 to 500 labels (we'll refrain from calling them skus), tweaking the offerings by location. The staff of around ten is expertly trained. The ethos hasn't changed. "It's not about mov - ing cases and cases of wine, not driven by Nielsen data," says Einhorn. "It's a shop where customers can benefit from our expertise, providing the service of a sommelier for your daily meal. You don't have to buy a case of wine. We like to think of wine as an everyday part of the dinner table and sometimes the lunch table as well. We like people to stop by when they know what they are having for dinner and we can guide them to the best wine for that meal. It's like shopping for fresh vegetables or bread . . . a daily proposition." "A Long, Thirsty Story" by David Gadd / photo by Jacob Hand Mitch Einhorn doesn't just sell wine; he makes it too. He started his own peripatetic label, Chateau Nomad, around five years ago. Today, the 600-case production is sold in Illinois, New York and New Jersey—"and I'm working on California," Einhorn says. In his typically offbeat way, Einhorn chose to make Trousseau Gris, a varietal that few others are attempting, as well as Chardonnay, a rosé from Cinsault and Viognier, a Bordeaux blend (50% Petit Verdot/ 50% Malbec) and a Rhône blend. Fruit is sourced from Santa Cruz, the Russian River Valley and Calaveras County. Einhorn partners with Scott Klann of Newsome-Harlow, in Calaveras County in the Sierra Foothills, to make the wines in Klann's facility in Murphys, California. While running his ideas by West Coast winemakers, they often told him, "We don't do it that way in California." Einhorn noted their com- ments, then went ahead and did things his own way. "Making wine is like any recipe," says the longtime cook and restaurateur. "As the wine buyer for the shops, I taste thousands of wines a year, and I find characteristics that I want in my wines," says Einhorn the vintner, who reveres the Old World as much in his winemaking as he does in putting together his store inventory: "The breadth of winemaking in California is in decades, not centuries. Europe has centuries of experience; there's something to be learned from that." THE SIDE BAR ON THE WINDING ROAD TO WINE WITH MITCH EINHORN, OWNER OF LUSH WINE & SPIRITS IN CHICAGO

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