On a date at a winery many years ago Tim McEnery realized that something was missing. There was wine, a comfortable atmosphere and good company, but he thought that having dinner on-site was something that would complete the experience.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t available and he had to drive to another location to enjoy a meal. But, a seed was planted that evening that later blossomed into a concept and lifestyle brand of combining food and wine and an artisan retail market into a completely new hospitality experience.

In 2005, McEnery opened his first Napa-style tasting room attached to an upscale casual dining restaurant with a full bar in suburban Orland Park, bringing the feel of California wine country to the Midwest.

“Cooper’s Hawk started with its first restaurant in Orland Park and it’s also one of our most successful restaurants to this day,” said Chief Marketing Officer Tom Koenigsberg.

Cooper’s Hawk has seen tremendous growth and recently opened its 30th location. Five of those locations were opened this year, with two in Florida, one in Virginia and two in the Chicago area in St. Charles and Oak Park. Indiana has two locations, one in Indianapolis and the other right here in the Region at Southlake Mall in Merrillville.

A 44,000-square-foot facility in Countryside, Illinois, is where Cooper’s Hawk produces more than 5 million bottles of wine per year with grapes sourced from such places as Chile, France, Italy, Australia and California, making it the 31st-largest winery in the United States and the fifth-largest winery outside of California.

Soon the winery and headquarters will relocate to a 125,000-square-foot facility in Woodridge, Illinois. Cooper’s Hawk employs approximately 3,600 and last year’s annual revenue hit about $200 million. The company’s growth shows no signs of slowing. Next year five more locations are slated to open. “Opening five a year is pretty aggressive,” Koenigsberg said.

With more than 400 wine awards to its credit, Cooper’s Hawk has not only created a concept, but a community with it’s popular wine club — the largest in the country — numbering nearly 250,000 members.

“Each month members receive a wine of the month that is not available to anyone except members,” Koenigsberg said. “You can pay $20 a month for one bottle or $38 for two and there are other benefits.”

One of those benefits is a special magnum of Italian-inspired wine as a gift to wine club members in celebration of their 12th anniversary this fall. This past summer wine club members received a $20 thank you credit on food in the restaurant ($40 if you were a two-bottle member.) There’s also an opportunity to meet some big names in the business through collaborations at Friends of Cooper’s Hawk events.

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Wine club members had an opportunity to meet chef and Food Network host Tyler Florence, French-born winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset, Canadian food writer and cookbook author Gail Simmons and others.

“If I didn’t work for the company, I would be a wine club member,” Koenigsberg said. “I would otherwise never have access to meeting someone like Tyler Florence and having a chance to have bottles signed. It’s a nice benefit of being part of the club.”

If you’ve never visited a Cooper’s Hawk location, it’s a perfect place for a wine novice as menu items are paired with particular wines. Knowledgeable staff members can help with suggestions and you can do some sampling to find a favorite. Each wine is sourced, blended, aged, bottled and distributed exclusively through Cooper’s Hawk.

“We’ve been so fortunate that guests have received us very well. We’re very pleased to be in Merrillville,” Koenigsberg said. “They have a great staff and we’re very pleased with the support we’ve gotten from that community.”