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From Market to Vine: Kocher Settles In

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In this instance, however, Kocher's enthusiasm for his product overcomes his sensitivity. He points to a $5.99 bottle. "This one," he advises, "is absolutely phenomenal for the money. It's got the perfect balance of fruit, butter and oak notes. …" But before he can finish the sentence, the customer interrupts. "Do you have two cases?"

Although business was initially slow after its May 5 opening, Once Upon a Vine is fast becoming a North Side hot spot. In keeping with his philosophy that "price dictates purchase," Kocher has arranged his wine selection according to cost, from $3.99 up. He tastes everything, he says, and sells nothing that he doesn't like. The results of this approach have been satisfying for both Kocher and his customers, many of whom frequented Price's Market in their younger, childless, less-suburban days.

Located at 4009 MacArthur Ave., the building Kocher bought for Once Upon a Vine has served various stints as a convenience store and an electrical contractor's headquarters. But the convenience store ambience is mostly gone now, replaced by custom-made, handsomely appointed wine racks and shelves that hold a vast selection of domestic and international wine, beer and ale.

A glass case in back features gourmet cheeses, patés, deli meats and entrees. Various high-end and exotic crackers, chips, olives, salsas, sauces, jams and chocolates occupy several aisles in between. Space gets tight on Friday evenings, when Kocher hosts his weekly free wine and cheese tastings.

Every tasting features specific distributors and geographic themes. Last week's showcased the wines of France, with accompanying recommended cheeses. This week, Kocher will serve California wines along with organic wines from Germany. This Saturday, he will host a beer tasting. And on July 16: summer wines from Portugal and Chile.

A 60-year-old wine aficionado and self-taught expert, Kocher is back in his element and happy about it. After closing Price's Market in 2000, he became a vice president of Specialty Beverage. But he missed the wine business. "It's my forte," he says. "My destiny." — Laura LaFay

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