Wine in the Windy City

By Mark Stock

The Willamette Valley Wineries Association’s newest trade show destination is th.e Windy City. On March 7, more than 60 wineries from Oregon’s most famous AVA will descend on Chicago to pour wines and spread the gospel about Oregon wine country. The visit follows several highly successful road show events in San Francisco, New York and Seattle. Plans are already under way for similar events in Southern California and Texas.

“Pinot in the Windy City” will take place at City Winery, an all-inclusive winery and event space in the heart of Chicago. The original City Winery in Manhattan hosted the WVWA and 50 affiliated wineries in the spring of 2012. According to Sue Horstmann, executive director of the WVWA, the goal is to reach two target markets per year, determined by the board and marketing committee.

Invoking Oregon wine country’s intimate vibe and inviting atmosphere, winemakers and owners will host the event, giving attendees a face-to-face experience at the two-tiered event, the first being a trade show; the second, a public tasting. “That’s what makes it so special and approachable,” added Horstmann. “It’s impressive to sample a wine made by the person pouring it.” 

The WVWA is in the midst of its “Drink Pinot, Think Oregon” campaign. The varietal has become synonymous with Oregon, courtesy of a rich history, regional dominance and a few outstanding recent vintages. Of course, another big front-page nod from Wine Spectator late last year only raised the Willamette Valley’s profile. 

Partnered with the association and traveling with the many labels is The Allison Inn. The luxury Newberg resort opened in 2009 and features 85 guest rooms. “Now you can stay in wine country,” said Horstmann, noting the region’s many B&Bs but citing the resort’s larger scale. “Whereas in the past, visitors used to go to Portland and commute to wine country.”

City Winery’s 7,000-square-foot Chicago installment opened last summer. It is the only fully-functioning urban winery in town and boasts its own production area, aging area, event space and restaurant. City Winery also produces wine under its own label. Big-name musicians like Lucinda Williams and Johnny Winter frequent the venue’s lounge. Founder and entrepreneur Michael Dorf is also responsible for the Knitting Factory, a New York music venue that has since spread to Spokane, Boise and Reno.

Wine is no stranger to the state of Illinois. French settlers brought vines to the Midwest in the 18th century. The French are also responsible for the Chicago name, an adaptation of a similar-sounding Native American word meaning “wild leek.” Today, the state boasts close to 100 wineries and the world’s largest viticultural area, the Upper Mississippi River Valley AVA. Pinot Noir is not among the popular varietals planted within this massive, 30,000-square-mile region.

Chicago is home to nearly three million people and is the third largest city in the country. With the Big Apple already under its belt and Los Angeles in its sights, the WVWA will have conquered the three biggest cities in the U.S. by the end of the year. 

Pioneering wineries like Ponzi, Sokol Blosser, and Adelsheim join the likes of Big Table Farm, Left Coast Cellars and Union Wine Company for the March 7 event. According to Horstmann, ticket sales have been good so far. And if the past is any indication, “Pinot in the Windy City” will fall in line with the others by selling out completely. 

Mark Stock, a Gonzaga grad, is a Portland-based freelance writer and photographer with a knack for all things Oregon. He currently works at Vista Hills Winery.

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