Illinois Wine Lovers Meet at Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest
Now only in its second year, the Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest, held June 8 through 10, has proved once again that a well run event in Northern Illinois can draw big crowds to enjoy Illinois wine. Robert M. Eschbach, Mayor of Ottawa, said he expected about 5,00o attendees to attend the three-day event. One of the 19 wineries participating in the event told him that they poured 1,1oo tastings at their booth during four hours on Friday evening.
Ottawa 2 Rivers is one of two large annual wine events in the popular Starved Rock State Park area. The Vintage Illinois event at Matthiessen State Park, ten miles from Ottawa, drew 8,000 attendees in a single day in September 2011. (Vintage Illinois will be held on September 15th and 16th, 2012.) For both the Ottawa 2 Rivers Festival and Vintage Illinois, the paid attendance is comprised of fifty percent area residents and 50% visitors from Chicago and suburbs, which is anywhere from a one to two-hour drive from Ottawa.
Megan Pressnall, Director of External Relations for Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association (IGGVA), said, “The attendance at recent Illinois wine festivals shows the big interest in Illinois wine in Chicago and across the state. With our recent events, like Ottawa 2 Rivers and the successful wine festival in Oak Park earlier this month, we are breaking into the Chicago market which has historically been difficult for regional wineries.”
Pressnall said that final attendance figures for the Ottawa 2 Rivers are currently being compiled, but she did report that over 24,000 paid tasting tickets were sold over three days.
Mayor Eschbach said that hosting the Ottawa 2 Rivers Fest is consistent with the city’s strategy to attract tourists who are interested in local agriculture. “We’ve adopted the botanical arts and gardening as a theme of downtown Ottawa,” he said. “The Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest fits with this theme because so many of the grapes used to make Illinois wine are grown locally in Illinois.” Eschbach said that he does not have a favorite Illinois winery but enjoys drinking wine from both nearby Fox Valley and August Hill Wineries.
The Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest is produced cooperatively by The City of Ottawa, The Ottawa Visitors Center, the IGGVA, and the Heritage Corridor Convention Bureau. Eighty local volunteers provided essential labor for the Fest which was supported by a generous donation from Larry and Karen Kiest of Ottawa.
Lisa Smiley with Cannon Valley Vineyards in Minnesota who was retained by the IGGVA to assist with the festival said, “The partnership between the wonderful staffs of the City of Ottawa and the IGGVA should be very proud of what they’ve accomplished with the Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest. It’s definitely one to attend and for other cities and grape and wine industry associations to learn from.”
Ottawa is also home to Herman’s Package Liquors which has one of the largest selections of Illinois and Midwest regional wines in Illinois.
See related story: Chardonel or Chardonnay? Herman Liquors Helps Midwest Wine Clients to Decide