From Sonoma with love

August 2020 View more

By Carly Boers

The duo behind wine label Source & Sink don’t come from wine-aficionado families. Nor did they enter college aspiring to vineyard life. Each grew up in the Chicago area, but their paths never crossed in Illinois. Just like their farming practices today, their partnership, they say, happened organically.

As a Colorado State student in 2007, Rande Feldman (shown above) jumped at the opportunity to take a for-credit gig harvesting grapes in Sonoma, California. One season on the vineyard and he was hooked: The Deerfield native would go on to intern at a winery in the South of France; travel the globe to work harvests in Western Australia, New Zealand, and South Africa postgraduation; and eventually return stateside to begin an assistant winemaker position at a Sonoma Valley vineyard.

Meanwhile, hometown boy—and Naperville Central alum—Aaron Cherny (shown right) had embarked on a finance career after college, working for Jim Beam while residing in Wicker Park. When his division was eliminated in 2017, he hightailed it to Sonoma armed with a severance check and a longing for change, and landed an internship with a vineyard. On his first day he met a guy in a Blackhawks T-shirt. It was Feldman, of course, and the friendship was seamless.

“We quickly discovered we spoke the same language,” says Feldman. The pair logged long hours together during harvest, eventually hatching a dream to create their own wine label and bring the fruits of their labor to their hometown. “We had this grand idea that if we could get this Sonoma wine to Chicago, we’d have eight million potential sales,” Feldman recounts with a laugh.

The conversations continued into 2018, after both moved onto to other jobs—Cherny as business manager for a wine group in Napa, and Feldman as a vineyard manager in Sonoma. In his new role, Feldman had access to vineyards where he could purchase fruit at a deep discount. When he shared this with Cherny, the friends deemed it their golden opportunity.

“We put our noses to the grindstone and tapped into our Midwestern blue-collar work ethic,” Feldman recalls. Within 10 weeks, they had secured a processing facility, label designer, licensing, permitting, and grape contracts. They chose the name Source & Sink—a nod to the positive flow of energy from vine to grape—and cranked out 750 cases of wine.

Wines of Intention

Source & Sink’s initial offering comprises five wines: Cherny and Feldman used the flagship Red Field Blend as their ticket into the Chicago market (see below).

Bottle Shop

In addition to all of the Binny’s locations, you can find Source & Sink at these Chicago wine stores:
In Fine Spirits

Craft & Barrel
Lake View

Off Premise
Lincoln Park

Local Foods
Clybourn Corridor

Joe’s Wine Cellar
Wicker Park

Garfield’s Beverage Warehouse
Wicker Park & Bucktown

1340 Beer Wine Spirits
West Loop

Feldman calls the field blend style “uniquely Californian” and says Source & Sink’s 2018 vintage enlists three varietals grown on rocky soil, yielding a deeply textured wine. For the 2019 version (which was set to be bottled in July), five grapes combine to an entirely different result, flavor-wise.

“The deconstructing and reconstructing [of this wine] takes a lot of evaluating and reevaluating,” says Feldman. “It’s not simply, ‘Let’s take whatever’s left over and throw it together,’ ” he adds. Cherny likens the process to that of creating a pot pie, carefully prepping individual ingredients before simmering to create the delicious end product: “We farmed all the varietals separately and aged the wines independently to elevate the concept and make the best possible wine.”

You can also find the label’s 2018 rosé on local shelves. Cherny says that although rosé has had a moment of late, it’s sometimes treated as an afterthought during production. “You can qualify anything as rosé: There are no rules on its manufacturing,” he says. On the contrary, he calls Source & Sink’s “a wine of intention,” adding that instead of enlisting grapes that didn’t make the cut for other blends, he and Feldman press juice straight off the selected grapes’ skins, as is tradition in Provence.

Deepening Roots

There’s no mistaking that this wine is made by Chicagoans—and largely for Chicagoans. “We’re super-proud Midwesterners who wear Chicago on our sleeves, so we decided to put it on our bottles, too,” says Cherny. “Born in Chicago, Grown in the West” is splashed across the label, which also takes design cues from Chicago world’s fair signage and ticket stubs.

For Cherny, now 35, and Feldman, 33, returning home on business is a treat. It’s a time to catch up with parents, siblings, and friends, and haunt old favorite restaurants. Dinners out look at a bit different than they used to, however: “Instead of the guy at the table with the corporate expense account, I’m now the guy trying to sell my wine,” Cherny laughs.

When it came time to produce 2019’s wine, Cherny and Feldman rented equipment and space from the winery where they first met. With increased resources and a little bottling help from friends (who are compensated with pizza and beer), they ramped up production to 1,400 cases and added new varietals. Although Chicago remains a top priority, the line has made its way into the D.C. and New York markets, and the duo has set their sights on the entire Midwest.

Going All In

Despite speedy growth, Source & Sink is still a fledgling label—a fact Cherny relishes. “Because we’re still small, we have the opportunity to farm vineyards ourselves and can really express the uniqueness of the fruit [we harvest],” he says. He and Feldman source from a half-dozen farms, maintaining close relationships with farmers and painstakingly nurturing the soil and crops through organic and sustainable practices.

One such partnering farm, Kimberly Vineyards, is a historic nine-acre Sonoma Valley property that’s home to century-old olive trees and grape vines that took root before Prohibition. When Feldman and Cherny—who had been on the hunt for a Zinfandel source for their 2019 vintage—learned the property was in a transitional phase, they approached second-generation owner Kimberly Eisert about a partnership. Eisert, who was concerned with the health of her vineyard after years of conventional farming, was immediately impressed by Feldman’s knowledge of Sonoma Valley and its history. Moreover, Feldman and Cherny’s plan to convert to organic farming felt like the right move.

Less than two years in, the union has proved hugely beneficial to both parties. “Rande and Aaron have taken the soil health to the next level,” says Eisert, who has never experienced such a hands-on approach from the winemakers her family has worked with. Whereas others visited a few times annually, she sees Feldman weekly, and appreciates how both men log quality time among the vines. “The bottom line is that Rande and Aaron behave as stewards of the land,” she says, emphasizing their intimate familiarity with the property’s terrain, water flow, and land characteristics.

“Our farm is singing, literally: the frogs, birds, ravens, bees, turkeys, crickets, and coyotes,” she adds.

It seems the vines appreciate their new caretakers, too—they have gifted Feldman and Cherny with abundant fruit, including the sought-after Zinfandel. Source & Sink’s newly released 2019 lineup includes 80 cases of single-varietal Zinfandel, and the grape also features in the year’s Red Field Blend.

In February they’ll bottle their first Cabernet, which will utilize Kimberly Vineyard grapes. They dream of seeing it on the menus at their favorite Chicago steakhouses. But for now they’ll continue to focus on spreading the gospel of Sonoma Valley wines throughout the Midwest and beyond. “We’re grateful we were able to put this dream together though determination and hardheadedness,” says Cherny. “Ultimately, we plan to make this how we support ourselves and get by in the world,” he adds.