Sep 20 2009

Just Grapes on Reality TV

Published by at 8:26 AM under News and Trends

by Brett Ashley McKenzie

The first 9 people to tell me what city the first challenge of reality show “The Winemakers:Season 2” was taped will receive a pass for 2 people to an advanced screening to “The Boys Are Back” with Clive Owens today, Monday, September 21, 2009 at 7 PM at AMC 600 N Michigan 9.  Post you answer below.

One part “Hell’s Kitchen,” one part “Top Chef,” and a full serving of oenophilia, the second season of PBS new reality series “The Winemakers” will begin filming this October/November in France’s celebrated Rhône Valley; and this season, Chicago sommelier and local “wine guy” Don Sritong will be among the 12 contestants vying for the title. After enduring physically grueling challenges and scrutiny from the panel of expert judges week after week, the last contestant standing will receive a coveted grand prize: the chance to launch their very own wine label.

Sritong, owner and managing partner of Just Grapes Wine Shop in the West Loop, who earned his spot on the show during the initial casting call in New York City, made it through the laborious first challenge in San Luis Obispo, California. Now, Sritong and the remaining contestants will travel on to France, where they have been promised the challenges, entailing every aspect of wine growing and making, will get even tougher. Season one of “The Winemakers,” which has just wrapped, will debut on PBS in September.

Raised in and around the restaurant industry (his family has owned Thai restaurants throughout San Francisco since Don’s childhood), Sritong has an intuition and unbounded enthusiasm for wine and food pairing. With more than 15 years of experience as a Corporate Sommelier, he has worked for notable wineries Kendall-Jackson and Constellation Brands. In 2003, Sritong achieved Certification level from the Court of Master Sommelier in 2009 became a candidate for the Advanced Certificate with the Wine & Spirits Education Trust.

“This is the opportunity of a lifetime,” Sritong said. “It has been a dream of mine for decades to launch my own brand, and to have the chance to compete for that in a setting as idyllic as the Rhône Valley is the icing on the cake.”

Just Grapes, which Sritong co-owns with wife Sharon, features two automatic tasting bars, 300+ wines, and free weekly wine tastings, offers extensive educational opportunities for the general public, covering all aspects of winemaking and tasting. Don Sritong, who serves as Managing Partner and Director of Wine Education, emphasizes “keeping wine simple, fun, and functional,” and is regularly overheard telling his store’s customers that the “best wine for you is the wine you like best.”

Supported by a team of knowledgeable and enthusiastic wine professionals (including Wine Buyer Maggie Smith, who was recently featured in The Wall Street Journal for her wine-pairing expertise), Sritong has served the Chicagoland area with affordable yet quality wines and spirits and valuable wine education for more than five years.

Sritong is thrilled to embark on his journey, and while he will no doubt miss his wife and one-year-old son Kyle while he’s gone, “I’ll be able to show my son that, when your dreams are within reach, you push through whatever’s thrown at you and you grab them,” he said.

Just Grapes (312.627.9463) is located at 560 W. Washington, and is open Monday thru Thursday from 11 A.M. to 7:00 P.M.; Friday from 11 A.M. to 8 P.M.; and Saturday from noon to 6 P.M., with free Saturday tastings weekly from 2 P.M. to 4 P.M. The store also sells wine through its web site,, and maintains a blog at

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