A taste of Napa: New owners mark one year at The Wine Exchange in St. Charles

  • Bob Sommer, owner of The Wine Exchange in St. Charles. He and his wife, Keri Foster, have owned the business for a year.

      Bob Sommer, owner of The Wine Exchange in St. Charles. He and his wife, Keri Foster, have owned the business for a year. Rick West | Staff Photographer

  • "It is set up almost like a Napa winery, so we feel like we are bringing Napa to St. Charles," owner Bob Sommer said of The Wine Exchange.

      "It is set up almost like a Napa winery, so we feel like we are bringing Napa to St. Charles," owner Bob Sommer said of The Wine Exchange. Rick West | Staff Photographer

Updated 4/25/2019 6:20 AM

From their vantage point as 10-year members of The Wine Exchange in St. Charles, Bob Sommer and his wife, Keri Foster, had a pretty good idea what they wanted to do with their lives.

They wanted to own the place.


Problem was, owner Mike Frazier wasn't interested in selling it at that time -- a few years ago now.

But when Frazier reached the nice retirement age of 70, he let Sommer know he'd take him up on the offer. So, Sommer and Foster this month marked their first anniversary of operating the popular business at 1 W. Illinois St. that hosts up to 150 events a year and welcomes several new members each month signing up for the $50 annual membership fee.

"Our vision is to make it an event-type driven wine store," Sommer said. "We want to expand the kitchen to provide more food, because wine and food go hand-in-hand."

It's never hurt The Wine Exchange that it is located in what was an old warehouse more than 100 years ago, so its beams and brick give it the perfect look and feel of an old wine cellar.

"It is set up almost like a Napa winery, so we feel like we are bringing Napa to St. Charles," Sommer said. "The wine racks in there really make it feel like you are walking into Napa."

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Any store specializing in wine tastings is finding itself in the middle of a hot trend, one that fuels a hobby for those who enjoy trying hundreds of different wines, buying the ones they like and storing them in their own racks at home.

"We support wine tastings being widespread," Sommer said of those taking place regularly at SavWay and Binny's liquor stores, Blue Goose supermarket and as a main feature at various fundraisers.

"The more people are tasting wine, the better for all of us," he added. "People will buy things they taste, because if you just go to a store and a 'wine expert' tells you what he or she likes, you may buy it but you have an entirely different palette. You take it home, you don't like it, and then you feel you've wasted your money."

The Wine Exchange counts on wine director Michael Burkholder to make sure that doesn't happen too often to the store's customers.

"Michael is a key employee of ours, and he is the point man when it comes to talking to the winemakers and searching out undervalued wines," Sommer noted.


"He heads up the whole find-and-discovery operation and purchasing the wines."

That's important for The Wine Exchange, which prides itself on finding "undervalued wines that are absolutely delicious," Sommer added.

It's been 70 years:

A few folks who haven't seen each other in quite some time will be getting a tour of St. Charles next week, but mostly they will be waxing nostalgic about their old school.

Nine members of the St. Patrick School eighth-grade graduating class of 1949 will get together Wednesday, May 1, for a 70th reunion lunch at the St. Patrick downtown church.

"It will be interesting to talk to these people after so many years," said Bernie Deutsch of St. Charles, a member of that class.

It sounds like Jim Gately is making the longest trip to attend the reunion, as he is coming from California.

Those who will be in town are also getting together for a dinner at the Hilton Hotel on the east side of St. Charles the night before the reunion lunch.

Volunteer hours impressive:

The Salvation Army Tri-City Corps most certainly relies on the help of volunteers to serve the region.

Based on the numbers Captain Betsy Clark shared two weeks ago during an event to honor volunteers, the Salvation Army is in good hands.

During 2018, approximately 2,159 volunteers donated a total of 12,447 hours of their time to help the Tri-City Corps provide 162,459 "instances of assistance" to those in need.

For good measure, volunteers distributed 35,785 bags of groceries during the year to the agency food pantry.

Moving water main:

Because this digging was so close to the Dryden Park ball diamond at Cheever and Western Avenue in Geneva, it was my guess that maybe a small washroom facility was being built.

Or, possibly, it was a park district project to hook water lines up for the new spray park at the Sunset pool.

But it turns out that all of that equipment and digging by city crews was to relocate a water main that was in the Union Pacific Railroad right of way.

That's an important relocation, considering UP has plans in the near future to add a third rail line along that route.

The digging and pipe moving is complete, so the pipeline is out of the way of work for a new rail. Testing of the water main was scheduled last week as well.

Brush with fame?:

I can lay claim to a brief brush with fame in meeting the "Godfather of Sports Talk Radio" in Chicago.

I sat next to sports broadcaster and author Chet Coppock at a show at the Arcada Theatre about five years ago now in downtown St. Charles.

We spoke only briefly about what to expect from the show that night, and Coppock simply said the scheduled performer was "one of the greatest of all time."

Coppock died at the age of 70 more than a week ago from injuries sustained in a car accident in South Carolina, but the Chicago sports broadcasting legend was correct in saying we were about to see a special show.

It was comedian Don Rickles about a year or two before he passed away.


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