10 Quetions with Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest
The Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest is quickly becoming known not just for wine, but also for Chicago jazz. This year’s entertainment theme is “The Women of Chicago Jazz,” so we thought it would be good to talk with the organizers, which include Reed Wilson, the economic development director for the City of Ottawa, Curt Bedei, the director of the Ottawa Visitor Center and Bob Navarro, president of the I&M Canal Heritage Corridor CVB, to get more information on this exciting festival.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: How did the idea of Wine Fest come about and what was the idea behind incorporating the combination of wine, lobsters and jazz?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: For several years, the City of Ottawa had been working to revitalize its downtown—primarily through an aggressive program of beautification and preservation of Ottawa’s extensive downtown historic architecture. Virtually all of the downtown’s 156 qualifying historic structures are located in the Ottawa Historic Commercial District listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The mayor and I were looking for a means of bringing people to downtown Ottawa in order to show them the results of our revitalization efforts. A representative of the Illinois Graper Growers and Vintners Association (IGGVA) suggested a wine festival. We visited the Vintage Illinois Wine Festival held annually at nearby Matthiessen State Park near Starved Rock State Park by the IGGVA. The image of a large number of people having a good time outdoors enjoying wine, food and music appealed to us and was something we could replicate in downtown Ottawa. Now, Ottawa sponsors the Wine Fest in partnership with the IGGVA.
The idea of adding lobsters was brought to us by the Ottawa Noon Rotary Club. This is a large and active Rotary, which does a lot of community service work in Ottawa. The Club uses the sale of lobsters at the festival as its primary source of funding for its charitable activities. The lobsters are flown in from Maine on the morning of the event. A good festival needs good music; given the history of outstanding jazz music in Chicago and the close proximity of Ottawa to Chicago, turning to jazz just seemed to be a natural thing to do.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: One has to ask—how many lobsters are needed for a festival of this size?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: There is a pretty good chance the Ottawa Noon Rotary will grill on the spot and serve 1,500 to 2,000 lobsters for dinner this year. Of course, while the lobster meal opportunity gets most of the attention, most of the attendees can focus on the gourmet food selections from The Cheese Shop and Deli—one of Ottawa’s many unique restaurants.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: For people not familiar with Ottawa, why is it called the Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest and why does Ottawa have such historic value to the region?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: A large part of Ottawa’s great natural beauty is due to its setting at the confluence of two major rivers—the Fox and Illinois. The beautiful Fox River flows down from Wisconsin to end at the Illinois River at Ottawa; the two rivers bisect the community. Since its establishment in the early part of the nineteenth century, Ottawa has been a regional center of commerce and industry. A major reason for this was the opening of the Illinois & Michigan Canal in 1848. The I&M traveled through the heart of Ottawa as it connected Chicago to the Illinois River at LaSalle. The canal made it possible for cargo to be shipped by water to Chicago from major cities such as New York and New Orleans and is largely responsible for Chicago’s rapid growth.
Ottawa is also located on top of massive deposits of the world’s finest silica sand. The resulting glass manufacturing industry played a major role in Ottawa’s development as a commercial center—an industry still important to Ottawa today. Largely because of its prominence as a center of commerce and industry, Ottawa was chosen in 1858 to be the site of the first Lincoln-Douglas debate in Washington Square in downtown Ottawa.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: The event features the wines of Illinois. How many vineyards will you have participating?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: There will be the usual 17 or 18 wineries from virtually every corner of the state. Several of the wineries also operate cideries. In addition, craft beer brewed by Ottawa’s own Tangled Roots Brewing Company will be featured, giving attendees a variety of beverages to sample.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Is there a selection process for the vineyards?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: The City of Ottawa partners with the Illinois Graper Growers and Vintners Association (IGGVA) to sponsor Wine Fest. It is the responsibility of the IGGVA to choose the participating wineries, which are members of the IGGVA.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: This year’s jazz artists are focused around “The Ladies of Chicago Jazz.” How did the concept of focusing on them come about?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: Mayor Bob Eschbach suggested to Festival Entertainment Coordinator Kevin Chalfant that Dee Alexander be approached to be one of the Fest headliners. While researching Dee, Kevin discovered a great many richly talented female jazz performers in the Chicago area. This realization caused Kevin to come up with the idea of featuring “The Ladies of Chicago Jazz.”
Chicago Jazz Magazine: With so many talented women on the Chicago jazz scene, how hard was the selection process?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: Kevin notes that it is never easy selecting talent because there are so many talented musicians in the Chicago area. It is definitely a mecca for many styles of music, but jazz and blues seem to be especially plentiful and represent a high talent level. After searching the internet, listening to many sound bites, and even speaking to some of the artists themselves, we chose those we feel are most likely to not only bring a great show to Ottawa, but also be the strongest draws.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: This will be the sixth year of the Wine Fest. When it comes to the music, has there been a specific performance that stands out?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: Kevin Chalfant said there have been way too many fantastic performances to choose just one. A few years back we were fortunate enough to get the Siegel-Schwall Band with all of the original members. And then there was the sensational show by Shirley King, B.B. King’s daughter. Some other Fest favorites have been Joliet Joe Filisko and Eric Noden.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: How can people get tickets?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: Early, discounted tickets for Wine Fest and the lobster dinners are now on sale at Ottawa2RiversWineFest.com.
Chicago Jazz Magazine: Outside of Wine Fest, if someone wants to come out, enjoy the area outside the event grounds and visit, do you have any suggestions on places to stay and what else to see?
Ottawa 2 Rivers Wine Fest: Ottawa is located in the Starved Rock area and has many accommodations to suit anyone’s likings, from unique stays and B&Bs to cottages to branded hotels. The Ottawa Visitors Center will be providing a shuttle service to and from the festival. Hotels here are Super 8, Fairfield Inn, Holiday Inn Express and the Hampton Inn. Aside from Fest, visitors can enjoy our heritage tour, including many large murals, as well as the monuments and architecture of downtown. The beautiful downtown is full of unique shops and restaurants, including The Lone Buffalo, the new, upscale, farm-to-table restaurant and craft brewery. For adventurous travelers, skydiving, hiking, kayaking and boating are readily available. For more accommodations, restaurants and attractions you can visit heritagecorridorcvb.com.