What an amazing success story! America’s largest wine club at 320,000 members is Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants, an inspired concept of restaurants paired with Napa-style wine tasting rooms. And, the wine club is growing 25% annually.
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants CEO, Tim McEnery, a graduate of Purdue University’s Restaurant and Hotel Management program, conceived this lifestyle restaurant brand centered on wine. Its number of restaurants has grown to 33 since its start-up 13 years ago with three more on-deck for 2019. Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants rapid growth proves once again that innovation and creativity usually receive their just reward. Nation’s Restaurant News named Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants the “Breakout Brand 2013,” “Hot Concept 2010” Winner,” and “One of the Fastest Growing Chains” this July 2018. And the accolades do not stop there. At the 24th Annual SAG Awards® in January 2018, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants was named the Official Wine of the Screen Actors Guild Awards®.
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants wines originate in many of the world’s most renowned wine regions. The wine grapes and wines are picked and fermented on-site with barrel aging, blending, and bottling occurring at its 125,000 sq. ft. winery in Chicago. Directed by winemaker Rob Warren, it produced 685,000 cases of wine in 2017.
A special Rosé was produced last year in collaboration with celebrity chef, Tyler Florence. Master Sommelier Emily Wines works with the winemaker, the Wine Club, and the restaurants’ staff on education and immersive events. Her initiatives are designed to enrich their customers’ views of the wines in a terroir or “sense of place,” including member-only trips to wine regions like Italy and Sonoma.
Emily Wines, MS, Cooper’s Hawk explains,
“We are so involved with our growers in our wine regions. We have great stories to tell about places like Napa, Italy, Sonoma, and Spain. There are so many wine appellations where our grapes are grown and our wine is fermented. In the past it was harder to explain that [some of] the winemaking occurs in Chicago. We actually bring the wine to Chicago for final aging, blending, and bottling with the wine labels reflective of the grapes’ origin.”
See below an interview with Emily Wines, MS., Vice President, Wine & Beverage Experience, Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants.
When you consider that the Indianapolis suburban restaurant location alone has 20,000 wine club members, it is clear that this restaurant concept is brilliant in its plan. Wine Club members can come to the restaurant to pick up their monthly membership wine bottle, see fellow members, try the monthly wine special, and decide to stay for dinner.
There is no corkage fee if members drink their wine in the restaurant. Members are also offered exclusive wines that are not on the restaurant wine list, for instance, the current October wine, “Origins,” an anniversary Cabernet Bordeaux-style red wine blend.
This restaurant model encourages repetitive business for members who want to try all the food/wine combinations.
Indianapolis Cooper’s Hawk manager, Rebekah Casner, says,
“ What makes our Wine Club different and so successful is that it’s not just a wine club. It’s a great community that has been developed through the frequent and friendly interaction of staff and members. They are not just picking up their [monthly] wine, they come to enjoy the entire experience.”
It became evident from our (my guest and I) recent visit to Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants that Executive Chef McMillin strives to combine the best ingredients from the best farmers. Our samples of entrées and desserts paired with wine were exceptional and freshly prepared.
We tried the Pan-Roasted Barramundi that was paired beautifully with Cooper’s Hawk bin 70, Unoaked Chardonnay. This dish included Blistered Green Beans, Grape Tomatoes, Ginger Rice, and a Thai Lemongrass Sauce.
We also sampled the “Trio of Medallions,” a beef filet was paired with Bin 80 Winemaker’s Reserve Bordeaux Blend wine. This trio included Horseradish, Bleu Cheese, and Parmesan-Crusted toppings with the signature “Mary’s” whipped Potatoes, and Asparagus.
For dessert, one of our favorites was the Caramel Banana Bread Sundae featuring Caramelized Banana, Vanilla Ice Cream, Rum Caramel, and Candied Walnuts. The Cooper’s Hawk “Nightjar” Port-Style wine is a lovely pairing with this Sundae.
Beware of the delicious Lemon Ice Wine Cheesecake topped with Macerated Berries and Toasted Graham Crackers. It is a show-stopper, but you must be over 21 to be served!
Try These Wines and Craft Cocktails
Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants offered us over 34 wines to taste from the 60 they make. The wine menu was designed to appeal to many types of wine drinkers, including dry and sweet choices. Retail wine prices range from $15 to $40 for the Lux-branded selections. Sparkling wines, white and red domestic and international wines, fruit wines, liquor, and sangria show the expanse of selections.
At the recent wine tasting at the Indianapolis location, the standout wines included the sweet Moscato with its aromatic aromas and the Cooper’s Hawk Lux Meritage, a deep red Bordeaux-style wine featuring softly managed tannins. Don’t miss the Sangria flight ranging from traditional red and white Sangria to peach and raspberry choices.
For cocktails, try the Peartini, crafted with Grey Goose La Poire Vodka, Disaronno, Pineapple juice, and sour mix.
Cooper’s Hawk restaurants/tasting rooms can be found in multiple cities including: Chicago; Tampa; Kansas City, MO; Virginia Beach and Richmond, VA; Jacksonville, Palm Beach and Doral, FL. This restaurant/winery concept is bound to expand throughout the US with the wine club membership naturally set to increase in the process.
Join the Cooper’s Hawk Winery & Restaurants community of wine lovers and savor a new way to appreciate wine and food with a twist.
Tricia Conover, DipWSET, CSS: “Emily, by the way, congratulations on being one of the few Master Sommeliers (only 350 in the world) to pass their MS exam on the first try. To what do you attribute the success of the Cooper’s Hawk Wine Club?”
Emily Wines, MS: “Thank you. Cooper’s Hawk is all about creating a ‘community of wine.’ You can see it in the tasting rooms. People meet there and come together around a glass of wine. The members and staff have an ongoing relationship. We also have offered our wine club members trips to Italy and Sonoma. An upcoming trip to Argentina is proposed. We help our members understand the connection to the local growers and vintage sources. We tell the story of our interaction with our growers in their appellations.”
Tricia: “With your background at Fifth Floor Restaurant in San Francisco, Kimpton Hotels wine and spirits program nationally, and Skipstone Ranch winery in Alexander Valley, what has best prepared you for your current position as Vice President of Wines & Beverage experience at Cooper’s Hawk?”
Emily: “I started in luxury wine at the Fifth Floor Restaurant where we had over 10,000 bottles in our cellar and earned a Wine Spectator Grand Award. At Kimpton I was the beverage director for their hotels and developed concise wine lists that were value-oriented along with a bar-centric approach to the exploding cocktail market. At Skipstone I was out in the vineyard quite a bit and realized [with aging time] that wines are really in a 3-year cycle. Now at Cooper’s Hawk I draw on that wine culture to tell our grower’s stories to people who are hungry for that wine knowledge. Our guest-facing education ranges from the casual side appealing to the super entry-level wine drinker to education for the more sophisticated palates. We give our customers a story about how wine is made and how many wines, Bordeaux for example, have influenced the world.”
Tricia: “Tell me about your staff training.”
Emily: “I am involved heavily in this. Our staff has a minimum of a solid week of wine education – 5 days of video’s that our trainers conduct. The topics range from wine regions of the world to the indigenous grape varietals for each country. Many of our staff go on to seek further wine education. I currently have 23 staff members for whom I am a mentor for the Court of Master Sommeliers Level 1 certifications. I am also involved in guest-facing education via our Wine Club newsletter.”
Tricia: “What is your personal go-to daily wine, weekly wine, monthly wine, and special occasion wine?”
Emily: “For my daily wine I like the dryer style Lambrusco. It has freshness and lower alcohol. We like bubbles at our house! For weekly wines I’m excited about the wines from Sicily: the Frappato, Nero D’Avola, Mt. Etna whites, and Moscato. For monthly wines I like the dry white Riesling and Gruner Veltliner and red Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. For special occasion wines I like to drink old Burgundy or Champagne.”