Although she has lived nearly all her life on the North Shore, Haje Black has always savored the rural life and she fondly recalls the summers she and her family she spent in northern Wisconsin and Door County.
As an adult, the Shorewood resident also developed an interest in holistic health, and six years ago, she combined her love for the country with her desire to promote healthy living and purchased a 41-acre organic farm in Woodstock, Ill., about 50 miles northwest of Chicago.
Her ownership of the organic farm eventually led to her becoming a viticulturist, a grower of wine grapes. The wine made from her grapes is bottled under the label that bears the name of her farm: Salute! Farm & Vineyard.
"Originally, I farmed only vegetables on 5 acres - producing basically everything, including gourmet varieties of vegetables. I subsequently added 5 acres of grapes," she explained.
Why grapes over vegetables?
"Wine is much sexier," she said with a twinkle in her eye.
The vineyard's dry, blended red low-sulfate wine won a silver medal its first year of production at the Illinois State Fair. It won another State Fair medal the following year as well as a medal at the Indiana International Wine Competition.
So popular has the wine become that while the first production began with 900 bottles, she anticipates she will produce about 10,000 bottles within two years.
"The wine has become especially sought after by purists who prefer wine that is totally grown and produced within 100 miles. My bottler is within 50 miles of the vineyard," Black said. "Salute's grapes are also grown organically, using no pesticides."
Born in Wurzberg, Germany, where her father, Rabbi Jay Brickman, was an Army chaplain, Black has lived in the North Shore since the age of 2, when her father became the rabbi of Congregation Sinai in Fox Point. While she lives in Shorewood, she divides her time between the North Shore and her McHenry County farm.
Opening new doors
"It's been a very exciting adventure and very challenging," Black said of the wine-making business. "What's lovely about this world is that it opens all kinds of doors that you'd never expect with other viticulturists, even abroad. When I went to champagne country near Paris I went to a small vineyard not usually open to he public because they found out I owned a vineyard."
However, as glamorous the vineyard is, Black still works hard on the rest of her farm as well.
Every Saturday, during the growing season, she takes her vegetables to the farmers market in Woodstock and sells them herself.
But when she looks ahead, it's clear that Black sees the winery as a big part of her future.
"I plan to expand my distribution from the local market," she said, "and, of course, would love to expand into the Wisconsin market."
To learn more about Salute! Farm & Vineyard, visit salutefarm.com.
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