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Eric Larson, director of retail strategy at Cooper's Hawk Winery and restaurant (Locations in illinois, indiana, florida, missouri, ohio, wisconsin and virginia)

Fancy Food & Culinary Products: Tell us a little about Cooper's Hawk Restaurant and Winery and the gifting options.
Eric Larson: We have 17 locations in 6 states, with plans to open several more in the coming months. In the front of each restaurant, we have a tasting room and a gift store, so guests can shop and peruse specialty foods, wine accessories and gift items while sipping wine or waiting to be seated.

FF: Why did Coopers Hawk venture into the gift market?
EL: It was actually part of the original plan when the first Cooper's Hawk opened in 2005. Many wineries will have a tasting room that also offers retail products, so the intent from the beginning was to provide innovative options for guests in our tasting rooms. As the winery grew and expanded, so too has our ecommerce site to offer more of the products we carry in the gift store.

FF: What types of items do you carry in the gift store?
EL: We offer a variety of specialty food products that pair well with wine as well as wine accessories and fun gifts related to wine. The goal is to offer something for both the wine novice and the wine expert while also providing products that are innovative, enhance the enjoyment of wine and are ideal for gift giving.

FF: Which are your best sellers and why do you believe customers are so interested in these particular items?
EL: Spreads, tapenades, preserves and pasta sauces have been very popular, as well as the Ghost Chile Sangria BBQ Sauce, which has been a big hit. When it comes to wine accessories, we offer bejeweled wine glasses in different styles and colors, but our best-selling retail product is definitely the Grapevine Decanter that we use in our restaurants when serving and decanting bottles of wine. Guests love them and can take a bit of the Cooper's Hawk experience home with them.

FF: Which bottle would you say is your favorite wine on the shelves at Coopers Hawk? Favorite product? EL: Currently, my favorite wine is our Shiraz Zin, which is also our October Wine Club selection. For a red that's always on the shelves, I also like our Barbera. For a white, I really enjoy our Riesling and our Unoaked Chardonnay. My favorite new retail product is a beautiful and elegant wine rack made of wood and stainless steel from Nambe. And from the Cooper's Hawk Gourmet Food line, I am very excited about a Cranberry Relish that we have on our menu for Thanksgiving. We partnered with The Gracious Gourmet to replicate our chef's recipe, and have recently begun offering it in a retail jar.

FF: Can you tell us a little about the gourmet foods that you carry?
EL: The pairing of our wines is a primary motivation behind our choices, and this past April we launched a line of Cooper's Hawk Gourmet Foods that are essentially broken down into three categories: pantry essentials, easy entertaining and dessert inspirations. We work with small, artisanal producers to develop unique specialty food products, and when sourcing items like olive oils, vinegar, spices and other pantry items, I look for the highest quality product to reflect our brand while still offering a consumer-friendly price. Many of the items incorporate our wine as an ingredient—for instance, we offer a Fresh Herb and Malbec Marinara that includes Cooper's Hawk Malbec.

FF: What's your favorite part about your line of work?
EL: I am very passionate about specialty retail, and that I get the opportunity to apply that passion at a dynamic business like Cooper's Hawk Winery and Restaurants is very exciting. I also enjoy interacting with our producers to develop exciting new items that reflect our brand. It's also fun to stay on top of trends in the industry and interact regularly with so many creative and dedicated people in the specialty food, housewares and gift industries.

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