With more and more products available in a wider variety of flavors, food and beverage manufacturers find themselves charting new ways to stay competitive and reach their customers. Cooper’s Hawk CEO and founder Tim McEnery has done just that in creating his casual-dining restaurant and winery combination that also offers a tasting room and retail shop.

Over the last two decades, wine’s popularity has exploded in the US, bringing more styles and titles to the shopper, while creating a buzz and likely some confusion. What Cooper’s Hawk does is simplify the complicated wine world by offering customers wine tastings of their in-house selection and a membership to a wine of the month club. At this time, its wines are only available in Cooper’s Hawk’s tasting rooms and restaurants. 

Cooper’s Hawk first opened in Orland Park, Ill. in 2005 and now have expanded to 24 locations throughout Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Missouri, Ohio, Maryland, Virginia and Wisconsin with five additional units slated for construction through 2017. The winery partners with grape growers around the world to produce the Cooper’s Hawk wine collection. The company is also home to one of the country’s largest wine clubs, which has just surpassed 200,000 members.  To celebrate this milestone, Cooper’s Hawk introduced a collaboration wine produced through a partnership with Buena Vista Winery, which is California’s oldest winery and one of the first new world wineries in the country.

The following is a Q&A with Tim McEnery of Cooper’s Hawk:

Q: How have you been able to cultivate a following of your wines?

A: At Cooper’s Hawk, it's our philosophy to create an environment that excites and educates our guests. Our concept is unique – each dish in our restaurant is listed with a bin number to guide a wine match made in our own private winery, allowing guests to experience a perfectly paired wine with their meal. 

Our Cooper’s Hawk Wine Club is an all-inclusive membership where members not only receive our winemaker’s newly released wine each month, but also enjoy invitations to members-only events, exclusive discounts, points on purchases, birthday rewards, and our Wine Club Newsletter with information on new wines, special events and great recipes.

Q: How significant have the tasting room and wine club been to reaching your customers? 

A: The tasting room is a key aspect of the Cooper’s Hawk experience. It provides a one-on-one dialogue with the tasting room guides, enabling guests to try classic domestic varietals as well as those from wine regions across the world – all at a reasonable price point.  The tasting room allows guests to try new types of wine before they commit to ordering a full glass or bottle and provides guests a glimpse of the wines crafted exclusively for Wine Club members.  Cooper’s Hawk Wine Club members are drawn to experiential aspects of our brand.  Each month, Cooper’s Hawk releases an exclusive wine for our Wine Club members — offering unique varietals that are not part of our standard wine list and people wouldn’t search out, so we bring different varietals to help solidify the relationship.

Q: Describe your process of working with grape growers. How does Cooper’s Hawk go about selecting them and decide on the types of wine to make?

A: We understand that the best fruit produces the best wine and our relationships with top growers throughout the country allows us to source from regions only where growing conditions have been ideal. Cooper’s Hawk benefits from not owning our own vineyard or buying from one large supplier. We are selective and buying the very best fruits from areas where seasonal conditions have resulted in the year’s most outstanding varietals, giving us the ability to consistently produce award-winning wines.  Grape growers who want to partner with us will send us samples – which we then analyze to determine the overall quality, focusing on the flavors and structures.  We also put emphasis on ensuring their values align with ours – whether we work well together, will they support the styles of wine we like to produce.  Another factor is the varietals. Each varietal grows best in different climates and regions — and we will focus our selections in the areas in which they grow best to get the best possible quality. 

Our winemaker and his team look for inspiration from around the world for the types of wine to produce, as well as through crowd-sourcing. Our winemaker, Rob Warren, seeks out guest-feedback on what wines are most enjoyed, by reading comments on social media, reviews, and by talking with our Wine Club members about various wine blends and flavor profiles. For example, our winemaker was inspired by a popular Spanish-blend “Tempranillo Merlot” and sought after the best vineyards in the US for these varietals.  This allows us to introduce our wine club members to a wine that you cannot purchase at any liquor store.  

Q: Is this the first collaboration with a winery? What was the strategic decision to collaborate with Buena Vista?

A: Cooper’s Hawk has partnered in the past with well-known chefs to produce a wine blend, such as Top Chef’s Fabio Viviani, but this was Cooper’s Hawk’s first collaboration blend with a winery. Driven by a shared passion for excellence, this collaboration united the New-World approach of Cooper’s Hawk with the iconic flair of Jean-Charles Boisset and his esteemed Buena Vista Winery.

Buena Vista Winery is known for bold, personality-rich wines and a wealth of winemaking history as California’s first premium winery, founded in 1857. As a scene leader in the wine world, Jean-Charles has brought an outstanding energy to this historic winery ever since Boisset Collection purchased the winery with a vision for the future in 2011.

Q: Do you envision having more collaborative efforts with other wineries in the future?

A: We look forward to it—we love brining our Wine Club members exclusive access to wines from some of the most creative minds in food and wine. In addition, this gives us an opportunity to offer members more benefits through partner winery tastings, tours and experiences.