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A South Side Winery? Yes, and a Brewery, Meadery and Bee Sanctuary

By Howard Ludwig | February 7, 2014 6:37am | Updated on February 7, 2014 8:09am
 Greg Fischer of Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery has big plans for his Chicago South Side brand of wines and his renowned varieties of mead. The former commercial beekeeper will start construction on a meadery, winery, brewery and bee sanctuary this summer.
Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery
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BEVERLY — Greg Fischer knew exactly what he was doing by naming his brand of wine for Chicago's South Side.

For some, arriving at a dinner party with a bottle of Chicago South Side pinot grigio, Chicago South Side shiraz or Chicago South Side sangiovese is statement of regional pride.

For others, it's an opportunity to poke fun at an area more commonly associated with swigging light beer than savoring fine wine.

"I bring out this South Side wine, and people think it must be s---," said Fischer, a Lakeview resident.

The mockery typically comes to a halt with one taste of the products from Fischer's Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery. The Beverly-based wine and mead maker opened at 10033 S. Western Ave. in 1995.

"I love [the wine's name]. It says, 'Hey, come to the South Side. There are a lot of great things down here,'" Fischer said.

His modest storefront also operates as Bev Art Brewer & Winemaker Supply. This arm of the business sells wine- and beer-making supplies. The shopkeeper also teaches classes to would-be distillers.

A major expansion is planned this summer. Fischer plans to convert an 8,000-square-foot building at 91st Street and Hermitage Avenue to a winery, meadery, brewery and bee sanctuary. Formerly home to a construction company's main office, the facility has been abandoned for about 10 years.

"I had to fight to get it a bit because of zoning ... [The neighbors] thought I was opening a liquor store," Fischer said.

He said the only products sold at the new location will be made on the premises. He has no interest in selling 24-packs of Budweiser, cigarettes or lottery tickets. He also has no plans to pair his production facility with a restaurant.

This will be the first time Fischer has had the opportunity to sell his products directly to consumers. His current building is on the east side of Western Avenue — where liquor sales are banned. Thus, Fischer can only sell his wine and mead online and by partnering with retailers across the street.

The Chicago South Side-branded wines are currently available at Town/Armanetti Beverage Mart at 10000 S. Western Ave. and County Fair Foods at 10800 S. Western Avenue.

But Fischer's line of honey wine — or mead — is the foundation of his business. Wild Blossom Meadery & Winery sells about 2,000 cases, or 24,000 bottles, of mead annually, compared with just 100 cases, or 1,200 bottles, of its Chicago South Side-branded wine.

"Meads are something that most people haven't tasted," Fischer said, adding that in addition to neighborhood retailers, Wild Blossom's meads are sold at Binny's Beverage Depot, Whole Foods and Mariano's Fresh Market.

Unlike wine that's made using grape juice, mead is made with honey. Locally produced honey is thinned out with water, and yeast is added to foster fermentation. Mead is the oldest alcoholic beverage known to man, Fischer said.

Wild Blossom is the only meadery in Illinois. It relies on nearly 100 hives from throughout the Chicago area, including hives in the nearby Dan Ryan Woods, the rooftop hive at the Marriott Downtown Chicago Magnificent Mile Hotel, The Morton Arboretum in suburban Lisle and hives along Chicago's lakefront where the U.S. Steel South Works site once stood.

"We like the Midwest honey," said Fischer, who's worked has a commercial beekeeper in New York, Florida and Washington.

Fischer is renowned for several of his recipes. The Chicago mead maker won the gold medal for his chocolate mead and a silver medal for his blueberry mead at the 2013 Mazer Cup Mead Competition — a worldwide mead contest held annually in Boulder, Colo.

The shop also produces Cran-Apple Cyser for Horse Thief Hollow. The popular brewpub opened in late 2012. It dedicated a tap to Fischer's blend of cranberry honey wine and fermented apple cider this year.

It's this momentum that Fischer believes will drive mead to become a household beverage in the near future. He believes the planned expansion will have Wild Blossom well-positioned to take advantage of this predicted surge in popularity.

"I think we are in the right place at the right time," he said.