Oak Park becomes uncorked for wine festival
Zanika Gahiji, catering coordinator at Marion Street Cheese Market in Oak Park, samples some wine at Marion Street Cheese Market to promote the Uncork Illinois Wine Festival on June 2 from 1 to 9 p.m. All profits from the wine tasting in downtown Oak Park will go to Wonder Works, a children's museum in Oak Park. | Ryan Pagelow~Sun-Times Media
At a glance
What: “Uncork Illinois,” downtown Oak Park’s first wine festival
When: 1-9 p.m. June 2Where:
on Marion Street between Lake Street and North Boulevard in Oak Park.
Admission: $15 at the gate, which includes seven tastings (while supplies last). Additional tasting tickets are $1.
Entertainment: Three jazz bands will play throughout the event, courtesy of local jazz station WDCB 90.9 FM
Sponsors: Downtown Oak Park, the Marion Street Cheese Market, Green Home Experts and City Winery Chicago
Proceeds: benefit Wonder Works Children’s Museum.
Phone: (708) 383-4145.
Updated: July 3, 2012 9:44AM
Oenophilia is coming to Downtown Oak Park.
Hundreds of oenophiles, better known as wine aficionados, will celebrate their passion and indulge their curious noses at the inaugural Uncork Illinois wine festival on June 2 on the 100 north block of Marion Street between Lake Street and North Boulevard.
Ticket holders will sample a selection of Illinois wines from 13 Illinois wineries, including the Lynfred Winery in Roselle, widely considered to be the grandfather of the Illinois wine industry, and Cooper’s Hawk Winery.
Ironically, the term “oenophile,” meaning a connoisseur of wine, wasn’t coined until 1977, by New York restaurateur Shirley Copperman. That was just four years after Oak Park legalized the sale of liquor in the village.
Now, the only thing dry Saturday will be some of the wines. Each ticket holder will be given an 8½ ounce wine glass and a list of all available wines. They will be able to taste seven wines. Additional tasting tickets can be purchased for $1 each.
The event had to jump a few hurdles during planning, the largest one being local and state laws that don’t allow wine purchased at a street fair booth to be sold in bottles.
“We had a couple wineries withdraw because they weren’t going to be able to sell whole bottles,” said Shannon Williams, marketing manager for Downtown Oak Park. “Selling wine by the bottle is a big incentive for them.”
That problem was sidestepped by teaming up with the Marion Street Cheese Market, which has a retail liquor license.
Williams said festival attendees can check off the wines they want to purchase from a list and runners will take the list to the Marion Street Cheese Market, a block south of the festival, for filling. There will even be a designated pick-up area for people to park while stopping in for their wine purchases.
Williams said the Marion Street Cheese Market will be giving away a six-bottle wine tote with each wine purchase, no matter the number of bottles purchased.
“We’re trying to make it as convenient as possible,” said Williams. “It actually works out better, because you’re not carrying around any bottles.”
The cheese market is a particularly apt choice for pick up, with it’s artesian cheeses, crusty breads and other deli delectables that go well with wine.
“It’s a great fit,” Williams acknowledged. “How can you go over there to pick up your wine and not buy some great food?”
Michelle Dirks, general manager of the cheese market, welcome Saturday’s event.
“Marion Street Cheese Market is very excited to partner with Downtown Oak Park and UnCork Illinois for this event,” she said “We love our visitors to visit both sides of the tracks.”
Williams said the wine tasting is being heavily cross-promoted with the Frank Lloyd Wright House Walk taking place that same day.
“We have signage over at the Wright Walk orientation tent on Chicago Avenue,” said Williams, who said UnCork Illinois also shares space with some FLW Walk promotional materials.
Pat Zubak said DTOP’s research showed the “psychographics” of Wright architecture aficionados are similar.
“From what we know about Frank Lloyd Wright visitors, they almost totally mirror our Oak Park market,” she said.
Not your grandfather’s Oak Park
This being Oak Park, that strange noise mixing in with the lush sound of hundreds of wine lovers swirling their glasses Saturday shouldn’t concerned anyone.
It’s just Henry Austin rolling over in his grave.
Austin, the developer of the sprawling city neighborhood east of Oak Park, was also a village resident and benefactor who donated much of his estate to the village, including the verdant Austin Gardens, a block east of Saturday’s wine tasting.
Austin was also an Illinois legislator and an ardent opponent of demon alcohol, to such an extent that he used his own money to buy up the last couple of taverns in Oak Park in 1872 and dumped their evil wares into the gutter.
He also helped pass a state law making the sale of alcohol illegal in Oak Park. The village would remain dry until 1972.
But Oak Park has changed.
Zubak said the downtown area is now used to festivals featuring alcoholic beverages, with the annual Micro Brew event held every September a big success.
“Our merchants love that event,” Zubak said. “But they also feel wine drinkers are their target group. They’ve been waiting for us to do a wine event.”
Then again, wine is an alcoholic beverage, so just in case someone turns in one too many tasting tickets Saturday, organizers have arranged to have designated drivers available.
Anyone volunteering to act as a designated driver for the event will get free water and juice for the day, courtesy of Trader Joe’s Market.
Or they can hire Ricksaw Rick, the popular ricksaw bike ride purveyor.