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Vin ChicagoWhat is the universe trying to tell you when you meet local wine lovers who say they've never heard of, much less been in your stores, even though they're the largest independent wine-only stores in the Chicago area?

Or when you're in Napa Valley on a buying trip, and the owner of a vineyard producing a top-notch cabernet balks at the idea of selling in your stores, even though you carry a lot of top-notch vintages? Time for a name change.

As of Oct. 15, Wine Discount Center will become Vin Chicago, says Peter Schwarzbach, owner of the independent four-store chain.

"We've been talking about this for seven years," Mr. Schwarzbach said. "When we say 'Wine Discount Center,' if you know us, you visualize the store, the people, but if you didn't know what we were about, you would think, oh, Yellow Tail, Barefoot, or some closeout wine on its way out."

The company prides itself on offering "cool wines at great prices," and on a knowledgeable staff that tastes all the wines. Two of its wine buyers are in the final stages of becoming master sommeliers, a designation fewer than 10 people in Illinois hold.

The biggest shop, in Chicago, is 9,000 square feet in an industrial building on a lonely stretch of Elston Avenue between Bucktown and Lincoln Park. It holds wine tastings for $10 once a month on Fridays and free tastings every Saturday.

 title=Other than a fresh coat of paint at the stores and a change in signage, all will stay the same, including wine displayed in their cardboard boxes; succinct, smart write-ups and ratings on many of the wines; a mailed or emailed newsletter with notes about featured wines; and tasting notes on the wines you buy emailed to you as you walk out the door.

"We are not changing how we do business," Mr. Schwarzbach said. "We're not going to raise prices, not changing how we buy. It's just a matter of communicating better to the market what we do."

"We take what we do so seriously," Mr. Schwarzbach said. "It's exciting for us to be able to portray it in a way that more people understand" with the new name. "There are a lot of people who just drive by our store."

There are also Wine Discount Centers in Highland Park, Naperville and Barrington. The company will unveil a new website in October to go along with the name change. Mr. Schwarzbach declined to give annual revenue, but back in 1995, his father, Bud, estimated sales at $12 million annually. The elder Mr. Schwarzbach, who had been a partner in Famous Liquors, started Wine Discount in Forest Park in 1984; that location was sold last year. The Elston store opened in 1986.

—Jan Parr

Crain's Blogs On Dining

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to reflect the correct roll-out date for the name change. Follow On Dining on Twitter at @CrainsLife.

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