Wine shop owners set to uncork in Champaign

Wine shop owners set to uncork in Champaign

CHAMPAIGN – For Mark and Jackie Yarbrough, there's nothing quite like the heady discovery of a great wine and the fun of uncorking a bottle for their customers to sample.

"Our passion is to try and get people to try new wine," says Jackie Yarbrough, who with her husband, Mark, owns Sun Singer Wine & Spirits, a Monticello store that is relocating to Champaign.

The new Sun Singer – to include a retail shop, deli and its own wine bar – is set to open the last week of October.

It is opening in Windsor Galleria, a 22,000-square-foot retail and restaurant center under construction on Windsor Road near Galen Drive.

The Yarbroughs have designed their new shop to be more than a place to pick up a bottle of wine or two. They've created a place to come and stay a while.

Customers can choose wine, deli meat, cheeses and fresh bread and take it home or make their meal right in the wine bar, which has seating for about 28.

Sampling of wines will be encouraged at daily tastings, and customers will find about 20 different wines they can order by the glass from the wine bar menu, the Yarbroughs said.

Like the Monticello store, the new store has been designed with "destination" areas throughout. One of them, for example, is a cork-floored wine room. The shop will carry more than 1,200 kinds of wine, the owners said.

Jackie Yarbrough said she and her husband have developed a good relationship with Illinois wineries and have an entire rack devoted to Illinois wines.

The new store also has an area devoted to about 350 kinds of domestic, import and microbrew beers, and other areas with about 400 kinds of spirits, wine glasses, accessories and gift items.

The Yarbroughs, both Champaign Centennial High School graduates, say they share a passion for wine that long predates their ownership of a wine shop.

In fact, wine was just their hobby until they got into the business in 1999 by purchasing the former Allikat Wines in Monticello, relocating it and changing the name to Sun Singer.

Buying the shop offered them both a second career and a chance to work together, they said. Jackie Yarbrough, 49, formerly worked as a veterinary technician at the University of Illinois, and Mark Yarbrough, 50, worked in his family's former construction business, University Asphalt, which later became University Construction.

Mark Yarbrough says he has been a wine drinker since college, and he and his wife have enjoyed wrapping up a busy work week on Friday evening by cooking a gourmet meal and trying a new wine.

Their interest in wines grew over the years to include an interest in production and history, and they began taking classes and touring wineries in the United States and some areas of Europe, the couple said.

"The whole industry is so vast and so spread through the world," Mark Yarbrough said. "And what I find fascinating is it changes constantly."

When Mark Yarbrough's family sold its interest in the former University Asphalt in 1997, he and his wife had a chance to turn their hobby into a business.

When they purchased the former Allikat Wines, they initially intended to run a small mom-and-pop shop, but the business soon grew, the Yarbroughs said. They started with 135 kinds of wine and about 20 kinds of beer, but their inventory – and business – began expanding as they began special-ordering to fill customer requests and hosting regular wine-tasting events at the shop and at the UI's Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.

In Monticello, the shop grew to about 550 kinds of wine and about 130 kinds of beer, as well as accessory items, they said.

"We grew it into a business that kind of started with customer requests," Jackie Yar-brough said.

Mark Yarbrough, who conducts many of the tasting events, said he enjoys answering customers' questions and helping people expand their knowledge of wines.

Growth was a major factor in their decision to leave Monticello, the couple said. About one-third of their customers were driving to Monticello from Champaign-Urbana, and the Yarbroughs decided they needed both a larger space and a wider population base, Mark Yarbrough said.

In creating their new shop, they followed the advice of customers, the Yarbroughs said.

"People said, 'Whatever you do, don't lose that intimate feel,'" Mark Yarbrough added.

He mapped out the basic layout he wanted and worked with Windsor Galleria's architect, Brett Stillwell, and designer Soozie Robinson to create an in-terior with a Tuscan ambience.

The Yarbroughs have also hired Lori Zeleznik, who worked as a wine buyer in the restaurant industry and for Famous Liquors in Bloomington. Zeleznik is Sun Singer's new wine manager, and she, along with Mark Yarbrough, will conduct wine tastings at the shop.

Jackie Yarbrough said Zeleznik is also a trained chef who can help customers choose wines to accompany the meals they're serving.

Saturday was the last day of business at the Monticello location. Mark Yarbrough said he and his wife hold a lease on that building through next April, and their plans for that location are indefinite.

The Yarbroughs said they proceeded with their plans to relocate even after learning a new beverage superstore, Friar Tuck, would be opening in Savoy not far from their new Champaign location.

They believe their business caters to a customer base different from the one the superstore will attract, they said.

The Yarbroughs are still stocking the new shop, but hope to be ready for business the last week of October, they said. Hours for both the shop and wine bar will be 10 a.m. to 11 p.m. daily, except for Sunday when Sun Singer will close at 7 p.m.

You can reach Debra Pressey at (217) 351-5229 or via e-mail at dpressey@news-gazette.com.

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