Fred Koehler, who turned a "crazy" idea about making wine in the suburbs into an award-winning winery, bed & breakfast and bakery, died this weekend after a six-month battle with cancer. He was 83.
Koehler created Lynfred Winery in Roselle with his late wife, Lynn. Koehler -- a lifelong Chicago-area resident who grew up in Des Plaines -- refused to be swayed by naysayers who insisted he couldn't create a successful winemaking business in Illinois.
"Everyone thought he was crazy," said Christina Anderson-Heller, Lynfred Winery's marketing director. "But he loved Chicago, and he didn't want to go anywhere else."
Lynfred Winery opened in Roselle in 1979 as a winery and tasting room. It has since grown into a 24,000-square-foot facility that includes a bakery and four bed & breakfast suites. Lynfred operates three additional tasting rooms in Naperville, Wheeling and Wheaton.
Lynn Koehler passed away in 1984, but Fred continued to run the business, which started to take off after Lynfred Winery's chardonnay won best in show at a 1985 competition in Nevada. The chardonnay also won best in show that year at a restaurant competition in Chicago.
"Those awards were key," Anderson-Heller said. "They showed that Lynfred produced high-quality wine that could hold its own against anybody. It also showed that Illinois was as good a place as any to make wine, and so you started to see other wineries popping up around the state."
Besides being a pioneer in the Illinois wine industry, Koehler was a wonderful person -- warm, energetic and upbeat, Anderson-Heller said. He kept his illness a secret because he didn't want employees at Lynfred worrying about him.
"He was an amazing soul," she said.
Koehler is survived by his second wife, Valerie, and two children who are active in Lynfred Winery -- his daughter, Diane, and son, Fred Jr. He's also survived by a brother and one grandchild.
Details about a memorial service are pending.