JOLIET – The group that bought the former Diocese of Joliet property hope someday to open a winery in the 19th-century limestone house known as “The Castle” because of its solid stone walls and turrets.
The house, which was the residence of a brewer years before it became the first home for the bishop when the Diocese of Joliet was formed in 1949, is one of three buildings on the property.
The Joliet Zoning Board on Thursday will consider a request for a variance on another of the buildings, the former chancery, so it could be used for administrative offices for Catholic Charities’ Head Start program.
The variance for the chancery building is being considered separately from other plans for the property, which are still in early stages, said Phil Soto, one of the investors in the group.
Soto said it could be “a couple of years” before the winery would open if the plan moves forward.
But the property, because it includes underground tunnels that were used for beer storage decades ago, would be an ideal site for wine making, which is a hobby of the investors, Soto said.
“It was a brewery on that site for 100 years,” Soto said. “There are tunnels throughout the property.”
Soto said the plan is to make wine at the site and use the building for wine tastings and small events.
While emphasizing that the plan is still preliminary, Soto said the investors were primarily interested in the house, last used for tribunal offices, to develop their hobby into a commercial winery.
“We’re not going to be a bar,” he said. “We’ll probably have a tasting room. We’ll be open three days a week and probably close by 6 p.m. depending on whether we have events.”
The winery would require zoning approval. Soto said the group has been meeting with city officials about the plan.
The group calls itself Sehring Property Holdings, taking its name from the Fred Sehring Brewing Company that once occupied the property.
Investors include Damon Zdonich, a Joliet resident who grew up in the neighborhood.
“We are trying to develop it in a very responsible manner,” Zdonich said.
Zdonich said he and his brothers would live in the third building, the John Paul II house, which had been used as a residence for bishops and priests.
“We want to be very respectful to the prior owners as was the Diocese of Joliet,” Soto said of the site. “It has a lot of nice history.”
Zdonich said the tribunal building was commonly called “The Castle” when he was growing up, and the area around it was referred to as “Bishop’s Hill.” The Diocese of Joliet on its website also refers to the building as “the Castle” and describes it as the first home for the bishop when the diocese was formed.
The diocese vacated the site in December 2013 when it moved to its new offices in Crest Hill.