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:
20 E. 34th Street
1111 Dixie Highway
540 University Park
Sauk Trail Food and Liquors
166 W. Sauk Trail
South Chicago Heights
22228 Governors Highway
25948 S Dixie Highway
Crete Food and Liquors
940 E. Steger Road
4239 Lincoln Highway
Peotone Country Market
312 S. Harlem Avenue