When you think of winemaking, you probably don’t’ think of Illinois as a top spot for it. But for Naperville resident Mike Karkhoff, Illinois is the best place to make wine. He has been in the winemaking business for eight years. Karkhoff developed his passion after moving to California in 2003. He took a job in a wine tasting room and soon fell in love with the industry but always felt something was missing.
“I sort of felt homesick, I guess, every time I came back here from California,” said Karkhoff. “I just didn’t feel right. I felt like this was my home, but I couldn’t do what I loved to do.”
In 2008 Karkhoff was able to come home. He took a job as the Assistant Winemaker for Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant based in Countryside, Illinois. The company has seven locations, including one here in Naperville. The job gives Karkhoff a chance to reach more people with the wines he makes.
“The great thing about it is that we have such a huge traffic flow that goes through the restaurant and we’re able to put our wines in front of so many people,” said Karkhoff. “In California, you’re kind of limited. With the wineries I was working at we didn’t do a lot of distribution so we were limited to everyone who was coming into just one tasting room.”
Karkhoff says his favorite part of the job is that every day is different. Soon it will be grape crushing season. After grapes are crushed, they ferment, where Karkhoff has to test them to make sure everything the chemicals are right. Then the wine goes into barrels to age, and there’s more testing. The final stage is the bottling stage. But Karkhoff is looking forward to September, when the two-month crushing begins.
“It’s long hours but it’s fun hours because we only get a chance to make wine for about 2 months of the year,” he said.
Karkhoff and Cooper’s Hawk winemaker Rob Warren make 60 different kinds of wine a year but Karkoff doesn’t play favorites.
“It really depends on what I’m doing at that particular time. I don’t have a set wine that I drink,” said Karkhoff.
Karkoff and Warren also blend wines throughout the year for the company’s wine club.
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