Suburban man's version of Napa Valley

April 23, 2009 12:16:31 PM PDT
One way to live green is to buy products that are made locally and sustainably -- which means production minimizes any harm done to the earth. A local man hopes people will think of that the next time they reach for a glass of wine.

Take a short trip south of the city and you'll find one man's version of Napa Valley. Saving the costs and pollution of shipping grapes across country to make wine, one Crete man does it all in his own back yard.

It's a field of dreams for 78-year-old Frank Cassara. After decades of working as a laborer, he retired and started growing grapes in his backyard -- all two acres of it.

Cassara, owner of Easy Street Vineyards and Winery, said "I don't want to wait for death to come to me. I want to keep working."

It started with just a few vines that Cassara's dad had grown back in the 1950's. Cassara now cultivates ten varieties of grapes and taught himself how to blend four different wines.

Cassara explained, "There's a lot of work involved in a vineyard. You're out there almost everyday. If not pruning, then training your vines to go up the wire. That all takes time."

He often recruits family and friends for help maintaining his south suburban Crete vineyard. Bernadette "Babe" Gilmore, Cassara's niece, helps out in the vineyard. She said, "I like being outside. So it's really nice you're outside and you're working with the grapes. It's fun. It's a lot of fun, really.

The family doesn't expect to compete with the big wineries in volume. They pick all of the grapes, prepare the wine and even bottle and label it by hand. But they hope creating a smaller carbon footprint will convince local folk to seek and support Illinois' "wine country."

"Mine is all home-grown. I do all the work myself. Not only that, it's Illinois-grown grapes, which we are trying to push more Illinois grapes," said Cassara.

By the way, Cassara named his vineyard "Easy Street" because when he started it, he and everyone else who lived on his block -- were all retired.

Easy Street wines are sold at these stores throughout the south suburbs:

Party Liquors
20 E. 34th Street
Steger

Walt's
1111 Dixie Highway
Beecher

Larson's Landing
540 University Park
University Park

Sauk Trail Food and Liquors
166 W. Sauk Trail
South Chicago Heights

United Liquors
22228 Governors Highway
Richton Park

Country Mart
25948 S Dixie Highway
Crete

Crete Food and Liquors
940 E. Steger Road
Crete

Matteson Liquors
4239 Lincoln Highway
Matteson

Peotone Country Market
312 S. Harlem Avenue
Peotone


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