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Wine 101 with City Winery’s Female Winemaker

Caroline Schrader is bringing new flavors and excitement to a Chicago favorite for wine and good times

“Wine was such a vast subject; mysterious and delicious.”

To say that Caroline Schrader is passionate about wine would be quite the understatement. It’s part of who she is. After a brief stint in the architecture industry, she learned that the office world was not for her.

“Sitting at a desk all day was the opposite of what I wanted to be doing. I wanted to be up and about, making something. There was a brief period when I considered going to culinary school to learn more about food, but I was most interested in wine.”

From there, a new passion and career were born. Schrader started making her own wine at home and is now an award-winning winemaker in Illinois. She is now the head winemaker of the City Winery team at both of its locations right here in Chicago. From barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc to delicate-yet-gritty Grenache, Caroline is making wines for people to enjoy that will also provide an element of surprise. Here, she gives us a brief lesson on wine to prepare us for not-to-miss fall sips…

DiningOut: What was the process for becoming a winemaker?

Schrader: I was introduced to wine when I took a trip to Sonoma Valley with my dad just days after finishing my master’s degree in architecture. We rode up and down the vineyards on bicycles, met with many winemakers, and tasted lots of wine. The stories of how the grapes were grown and the process of wine making caught my attention. After that trip, I began making my own wine in my basement. It started as a hobby and became a passion, and it still is today.

What does wine mean to you on a more personal level?

As a winemaker, you might expect me to say that the wine should be the star of the show: the feature. Something that should not be forgotten. For me, wine should be a part of a whole or a piece of the puzzle.

The people, food, music, atmosphere, and celebration are what really make wine worth drinking (and making). It’s hard for me to remember standout wines that I have had in the past but easy for me to recall times where wine has been part of a memorable experience.

One example that comes quickly to mind is my first show I attended at City Winery. By listening to the music, eating the food, and drinking the wine, I was overwhelmed with the entire experience. I had to experience the individual parts of City Winery to understand the whole. It was an experience I will never forget.

What are some wines we should be sure to take advantage of while the warmer weather lasts?

The final summer days should be spent drinking Sauvignon Blanc and rosé. Anything chilled with high acidity and a bright and crisp finish. I actually prefer to drink these two wines year round, but I feel these wines pair with summer best.

And what should we be drinking this fall?

Cooler weather calls for medium-bodied, transitional reds. I love Grenache. The varietal is expressive with ripe, red fruit and pairs well with brisk fall weather. When summer seems like a distant memory, I turn to fuller-bodied reds, like Blaufränkisch. An Austrian red with dark fruit flavors, ample tannin, and baking spices.

What is your current favorite food and wine pairing?

Right now, I’m loving rosé with watermelon and tomato salad. Our executive chef, Mark Mendez, has me hooked on the pairing which we presented at our recent Urban Wine dinner.

Rosé and popcorn are also on the top of my list. Popcorn is so versatile. It compliments a lot of different wines. Champagne, Chardonnay … just try it!

What can people expect when they taste wine with you?

I keep things very casual. Tasting is very personal and subjective. There is no right or wrong. I don’t tell our guests what they should and shouldn’t be smelling and tasting when they try any of our wines. My tasting notes are very simple and open ended. Wine shouldn’t be intimidating to our guests.

How does City Winery stand out and do wine differently?

We’re very different, yet similar to any other winery. Being an urban winery, we’re removed from our vineyards, so unlike a typical vineyard, you won’t see our grapes growing right outside our door. Instead, we’re in the heart of the city, trucking our grapes across the country. We process and ferment our grapes on site, serve our wine to guests, and sell bottles for them to take home with them—much like a traditional winery.

About 75% of our wine is sold through our tap system, allowing us to use less sulfites and deliver wine to our guests straight from the barrel. We use less packaging and are conscious of our environmental footprint. You can even purchase a growler of our tap wines to take home with you. We bottle small amounts of a majority of our wines that can be purchased in our tasting room.

You are also an amazing event space! How do you work with people to plan their events?

With private events, we love to invite guests to participate in a variety of urban winery experiences. Whether it’s creating their own custom labels, hosting wine blending sessions or wine and food pairings. Our barrel program allows guests, non-profits and companies to purchase an entire barrel of wine and be a part of the wine making process from grape to bottle.

Interview by Kaleigh Glaza | Online Editor