By Anna Lothson
A new Oak Park festival will allow guests to tour the state's wineries without leaving town.
The Downtown Oak Park business association is hosting Uncork Illinois from 1-9 p.m. this Saturday, June 2, on Marion Street between Lake Street and North Blvd., where a dozen eateries will be paired with 13 wineries from across the state. The event will not only provide tips on how to combine that vino with the perfect meal, it will showcase the diversity of vineyards that Illinois offers.
"We felt like we had a gap. We thought it would be fun to kick start summer with an event," said Pat Zubak, executive director of DTOP, who said discussions about the concept have been in the works for years. Once the popularity of beer festivals in the area took off, they knew it was time to bring wine lovers their own event.
After getting merchant requests and researching the logistics of serving, pairing and connecting wineries and restaurants, Zubak and her team got working — including intern Kristina Conrady, who took over the event.
The first task was determining how far to recruit for the event, but in the spirit of promoting neighbors it was decided to stay within the state's borders.
"I had no idea how many wineries there were across Illinois," Zubak said. "We thought it was a good fit for our community's appreciation for local food. We thought it would be kind of nice to encourage drinking locally, as well as eating locally."
Also at the event will be locally-based food producers to accompany the theme, which will be located next to a kiosk area where people can pick out their favorite bottles of wine in a one-stop-shopping area following a tour through the event.
The June 2 date is ideal timing since it coincides with the same weekend of the annual Frank Lloyd Wright housewalk tour. Zubak said she thinks the few thousand estimated guests for that event are the similar type of people who'd appreciate the wine festival.
"I think when Visit Oak Park did their study…it was very comprehensive," Zubak said. "They realized that the visitor coming into see Wright is like the typical Oak Parker."
The restaurants participating in the event are Mancini's, The Golden Lamb, Khyber Pass, Potbelly, Munch, Hutong Café, Luo's Peking House, Lake Street Kitchen and Bar, Aripo's, Sushi House, Sugar Fixe Patisserie and Seven Oceans.
Conrady thinks the event will be an excellent way to promote local eateries as well as Illinois at the same time.
"The festival is dedicated to our state," she said. "Going local always has big draw. It was kind of a focal point that we promoted the event."
She said the event will serve multiple purposes as it exposes Oak Parkers and visitors to nearby wineries, promotes local businesses, and connects wineries to the Chicagoland market.
Besides watching her plans unfold, Conrady said she is ready to see how the businesses react to the festivities.
"It's going to be a huge draw them for them," she said. "I think they are going to be pleased with the turnout."
Admission to the fest is $15 at the gate and includes a free souvenir glass and seven tastings (while supplies last). Additional tasting tickets may be purchased for $1. In addition to tastings, vineyards will sell wines by the glass or bottle.