Fred E. Koehler, founder of Lynfred Winery, also considered the father of the Illinois wine industry, was a business savvy man and self-taught winemaker whose aspiration to produce wines of excellence earned him the title of a legend. Robert Mondavi once told him "You're wasting your time in Illinois. You ought to come to California", but Koehler replied that his roots are in Illinois. In the 1920's Fred's grandfather and father made wine for the family and local politicians. Then in 1975 Fred, along with his late wife Lynn, made his first batch of wine in the basement of their home. “We had so much wine we outgrew our house and had to go commercial.” What began as “a hobby that got out of hand" led to the opening of the first winery in Illinois in 1979 with 7 varieties and 5,000 gallons of wine.
It was a rough beginning; Koehler had to overcome many obstacles along the journey. Converting a residence into a commercial business, convincing California vineyards to ship their grapes 2,000 miles to Illinois, and fighting to get Illinois laws changed to allow more freedom in producing various varieties and in larger quantities, just to name a few. Koehler’s big break came when his 1983 Chardonnay earned national recognition in 1985 when it won 'Best of Class and Best of Show' against other prestigious California wineries in a Reno, Nevada judging. One month later, this wine made history by winning another major national competition, again “Double Gold", at the National Restaurant Show in Chicago. Named in prominent magazines such as the Wine Spectator, Chicago Tribune and with TV exposure, people began to take notice. "Word of mouth is the best advertising", Koehler would say, and this little business began to grow.
Fred Koehler was a risk-taker..."Are we crazy enough to expand?" Governor Thompson, along with the mayor of Roselle, and state representative Kay Wojcik initiated the groundbreaking of the new Lynfred Winery in 1990. The new winery allowed Koehler’s wine production to increase to almost 100,000 gallons a year and more than 80 varietals. As the winery continued to grow Fred acquired a world-class winemaker from Chile to take over the winemaking so that he could run the business. During this time Koehler was instrumental in the political workings of the emerging Illinois wine industry. In 1999 Koehler opened Tasting deVine (a Lynfred Winery satellite store) in Wheaton, followed by a luxurious B&B at the Roselle location in 2002. A Naperville location, Tasting deVine Cellars, was opened in 2004 followed by a new Lynfred Winery tasting room in Wheeling in 2008.
Fred Koehler is a man known for wine but his background was truly hospitality. Fred started his career in the restaurant business when he managed Richard’s Drive-In on West 95th Street in Chicago. Over the years Koehler ventured into managing country clubs, including Elmhurst Country Club and Itasca Country Club. Lynfred Winery began while Fred was still working at Itasca Country Club and he says he needed the full-time job to boost the winery in the first years.
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