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Taste of the Town: California love

Wine enthusiast brings Napa knowledge to St. Charles Wine Exchange

ST. CHARLES – West-Coast-wine enthusiast Mike Frasier uprooted his life amidst the vines in Northern California after a job with Sears relocated him to the Chicago area in 1993.

Upon retiring from the corporate hustle and bustle, Frasier decided to funnel his penchant for “fruit forward” new world wines into the Wine Exchange – a wine shop, tasting room and stage for viticultural education in St. Charles.

“I’ve tasted every wine in the shop and just about every vintage of every wine,” Frasier said, adding that he tends to focus on the new world flavor profile, which includes wine from California, Chile, Argentina, Washington, South Africa and New Zealand. However, the shop also offers old world wines from Italy, France and Spain.

“I’m a California guy, and I kind of go with that,” said Frasier, who called the Golden State home for 45 years and began his wine-tasting ventures in the ’70s. “In those days there weren’t many wineries. You could walk in and actually meet the winemakers; some of the really famous winemakers. ... I like to have that connection here.”

Frasier bought the Wine Exchange in 2006, when it was formerly located next to the Bull and Bear Tobacco Shop, and in 2009, moved it a couple doors down to its current expanded space.

The wine shop hosts nearly 150 events every year, including tastings of about five or six different wine varietals from 4 to 7 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays every week. At the wine shop’s most recent tasting on Jan. 4, Silver Oak cabernet souvignon  was one of the featured wines available.

“You get an opportunity to taste different wines every weekend,” Frasier said, adding he believes people should try before they buy.

Wine tastings and events also have featured a multitude of formidable forces in the wine world, such as Dina Mondavi of the Robert Mondavi Winery, Hailey Trefethen of Trefethen Family Vineyards and Hector Durigutti of Durigutti wines in Argentina, who have visited to pour or give presentations.

Frasier said the Wine Exchange also is “one of the few places” to allow its customers to purchase a bottle at retail price and enjoy it at the wine shop or, during warmer months, on the shop’s back patio overlooking the Fox River.

“It’s just a good place to come in and drink wine and relax,” said Amanda Garton, who has been working alongside Frasier for nearly three years. “It’s like a classy ‘Cheers.’ It’s a very non-judgmental place, and everyone who comes in here ends up hanging out together.”

In addition to weekend wine tastings, the Wine Exchange’s roughly 2,000 members receive a bevy of special offers, such as complimentary admission to special wine events like MayFest and October Wine Fest, which feature – sometimes – as many as 30 wines to sample; cheese pairings; its semi-annual Black-Tie tasting of high-end wines (at an additional cost) and discounts on wine purchases.

Membership to the Wine Exchange, which includes roughly 104 wine tasting events a year, costs an annual fee of $30 a person or $50 a couple.

Otherwise, a nonmember tasting costs $10 a person each time.

The Wine Exchange also offers wine education classes (at an additional cost to membership) taught by Frasier.

“[Frasier] teaches classes that are so down-to-earth and approachable for everybody whether you know what you’re doing or not,” Garton said.

Classes include wine tasting and cover topics such as components of wine; new world versus old world wines; how wine is made; the history of wine; and how to order and taste wine.

“This is not one of those shops that has a snob appeal to it,” Frasier said. “Wine is just grape juice ... just fermented grape juice, but – boy – there is a world of difference in it.”

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