Uncork Illinois Festival 2014
On a beautiful May 31 afternoon, thirteen Illinois wineries brought their products to Oak Park, a suburb of Chicago.
This third iteration of the festival showed continued and growing interest in local wines in Chicago, the state’s largest market
Max Austin-Williams, Executive Director of Downtown Oak Park, was very pleased with this year’s turnout. He noted that the original idea came as a way to showcase local products. The communities of Oak Park and River Forest are already very interested in locally-focused food and wine events.
Uncork Illinois is held on Marion Street, a pedestrian passageway originally designed to accommodate street festivals. Austin-Williams hopes Uncork Illinois helps dispel some of the misconceptions about Illinois wine and highlight its depth of quality.
The event pre-sold 1,800 tickets, a marker of its success, although Austin-Williams does not intend to turn Uncork Illinois into a massive wine festival.
This year the focus was on increasing participation of local food vendors. Wineries featured included: Alto Vineyards, August Hill Winery, City Winery, Cooper’s Hawk Winery and Restaurant, Glunz Family Winery and Cellars, Illinois River Winery, Illinois Sparkling Co., Sleepy Creek Vineyards, Spirit Knob Winery, Village Vintner, Waterman Winery and Vineyards, Wild Blossom Meadery and Winery, and Wyldewood Cellars Winery.
Local food producers included Autumn Berry Inspired, Butter Bella Gourmet Cookies, CarefulPeach, Cave Chick, GrownUp KidStuff, Katherine Anne Confections, Linda’s Country Cupboard, Well St. Popcorn and Green Spirit Living. Music was provided on the WDCB Jazz Stage by Katherine Andrick/Frank Portolese, Maracujaz Brazilian Jazz Trio, and Chris Greene Quartet.
Austin-Williams and his group recruit wineries by working with wine distributors and the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association. Word of mouth of the event’s success brings more winery interest every year. Austin-Williams notes that the event has ‘kind of organically grown” from the smaller beginnings into one of the showcase events for his group. All proceeds for the event go to Prevail, an Oak Park non-profit providing immediate and compassionate assistance to individuals and families facing financial crisis. The exclusive media sponsor was Chicago Magazine.
Clara Orban is a leading authority on Illinois wine and the author of a soon to be released guide to Illinois wineries published by Southern Illinois University Press.