LA GRANGE – John Hutzler and his wife ate turkey every week for about a month this fall – before Thanksgiving.
It was Hutzler’s way of preparing to take over Vino e Birra, a wine and craft beer store at 18 W. Burlington Ave. A wine aficionado for 40 years, Hutzler specializes in pairing wines with foods and is poised to become La Grange’s wine expert. Or your “cork dork,” as he calls himself. He promises he doesn’t wear plaid every day.
Hutzler, 60, was one of six finalists in a 300-person wine-tasting competition several years ago at the now-closed Sam’s Wine and Spirits in Chicago. He finished second, and it still bugs him a bit.
“I over thought my answers,” Hutzler said.
Hutzler and his wife, Maria D’Amico-Hutzler, did not hesitate after hearing Vino e Birra’s previous owner was planning to move out-of-state. Hutzler, who previously worked in real estate lending, had paired and shipped wines as a side business for years, and this was his chance to do it full-time.
“It’s a big risk,” D’Amico-Hutzler said, “but I think he’s got so much to give the community.”
Most of the store’s wine inventory is new – consisting mostly of wines not sold there under its previous owner – and all of it has been approved by the cork dork.
“He’s tasted everything in here,” D’Amico-Hutzler said.
Hutzler spends many evenings at the couple’s Wheaton home trying wines. He sips, swirls the wine around and always spits it out, so as not to overindulge.
“He always loved to put food and wine together,” D’Amico-Hutzler said. “And he always loved to host dinner parties. That was always his thing, to pick out wine for a dinner party.”
After Hutzler’s restocking, Vino now carries about 50 different types of wine and 20 varieties of beer. Figuring out which one to try is a task Hutzler can’t wait to help with. To make it official, he’s about to start the process to become a certified sommelier, or wine steward.
Almost every wine sold at Vino is priced at less than $30, Hutzler said. Every week, Vino features a new selection of Hutzler’s top 10 picks, displayed next to the store’s entrance in a late-1800s engraved wooden cabinet D’Amico-Hutzler bought at an estate sale.
A row of wines that are nearly out of stock are set neatly on a white cloth draped over an oak barrel as part of Vino’s “Last Pour” deal. Other features include custom gift baskets and pre-packaged wine gifts for those who pick up their bottle of wine on the way to the party.
The store offers free wine tastings from 5 to 7 p.m. Fridays and 2 to 5 p.m. Saturdays, including two free beer samples on Saturdays. Vino also plans to start wine education classes and a wine club next year, D’Amico-Hutzler said.
The store’s new owners want customers to return and say, “Gee, I really like what you sold us last week. What can you do for me this week?” D’Amico-Hutzler said. “I feel strongly that the community will learn to trust [Hutzler] on his recommendations.”