URBANA — Coming soon to your local farmer's market: wine, beer and spirits.
After creating a new liquor license category with the blessing of the city council and mayor, the city of Urbana now allows purveyors of Illinois wine, whiskey and other alcoholic beverages to sell their products at the farmers market. Also on the horizon this summer: a new wine festival in its downtown.
The first — and only vendor so far — to sign up is Sleepy Creek Vineyards, a winery located east of Urbana in the rolling hills south of Oakwood.
Joe and Dawn Taylor, whose winery opened in 2007, have offered tastings and sold their wines at the Thursday farmers market on the Illinois State Fairgrounds in Springfield and had success there.
"We had always wanted to do Urbana; Urbana has such a great market," Joe Taylor said. Wineries in general like the concept of farmers markets, he said. "Our wine is a local product, made in our winery, not shipped in. It fits within the theme of the market," he added.
The Taylors are looking forward to setting up a stall at Urbana's Market at the Square in order to introduce new customers to their wines — "because we are a bit of a journey, although that's also a fun thing" — and to save current customers the drive. Sleepy Creek sells a few of its wines at Common Ground Food Co-Op in Lincoln Square, but not the full lineup of its products, Taylor said.
On the first day of the market, Saturday, Sleepy Creek plans to offer samplings of seven to 10 wines, including its blended red wine Three Amigos and the growing-in-popularity Winey Mary, which is made from tomatoes and jalapenos. Blend it with a Bloody Mary mix and you've got one smooth drink, according to Taylor.
"We're real excited," he said.
Almost everything they grow falls into the category of French-American hybrids. Grapes grown in California, such as Merlot and Chardonnay, would not survive a winter here, he said. The varieties grown in their vineyard were developed at places like the University of Minnesota; they can handle tough winters. He likens these varieties to more German-stye wines.
"The grapes have a little more acidity to them, which lends themselves to a little more sweetness, but not always," he said.
Toward the end of July and into August (exactly when will depend on how hot and dry the summer weather is), they will also sell a few table grapes. They grow two varieties: Vanessa, a small red grape, and Reliance, a pink grape that has a "nice touch of acidity that gives them a sweet, tart taste that people like."
Market at the Square director Natalie Kenny Marquez has contacted wineries, breweries and distilleries in the region and hopes to recruit more. Her goal is to have four vendors of locally produced beer, wine and spirits.
"Locally produced" means the beer, wine or spirits are made, bottled and distributed from within Illinois, not produced in another state, shipped here with a label slapped on saying it's from here, Kenny Marquez said.
Each vender will have to apply for a special permit from the city. In order to qualify, the business must have a state liquor license as well.
"You can't do moonshine in your back room. You have to be a legitimate liquor purveyor," Kenny Marquez said.
There's a $50 application fee and vendors pay $15 for each Saturday they sell at the market.
That's a huge change from the other temporary liquor license that was previously available at a cost of about $1,000 a day, Kenny Marquez said.
"You can see why it was cost-prohibitive" to sell alcohol before the council approved the change last year, she said.
The license allows the businesses to offer small samples (sorry, no full glasses or open bottles of beer at the market) and sell bottles.
"We're definitely on board (with the concept). It provides a new perspective for the indoor markets in addition to the outdoor market," said Cynthia Chandler, executive director of the Urbana Business Association. The city of Urbana runs Market at the Square while the business group manages the indoor holiday market and "middle market" in late winter and early spring, both in Lincoln Square. The liquor license change also allows alcohol vendors to set up stalls during those indoor markets.
Also on tap is a brand-new festival planned for downtown Urbana. Uncork Urbana will feature up to 15 different wineries from Illinois.
"We're very excited. It's unlike any other festival that's found in the area. It really brings a new perspective and catches on a niche untapped in the area now," Chandler said.
Sleepy Creek has signed on, and the Illinois Grape Growers and Vintners Association is now seeking other participants.
The association "is thrilled to be invited to participate in a brand new wine festival in downtown Urbana. Festivals like this allow attendees to sample wines from all over the state in one convenient location, often speaking to the winemaker directly," said Megan Pressnall, director of external relations for the association.
Wineries will set up in the Busey Bank parking lot. For a $10 admission fee, drinkers will receive a commemorative tasting glass and five tasting tickets. Additional tasting tickets can be purchased, as well as glasses and bottles of wine. Music and cooking demonstrations also are planned.
Urbana's Market at the Square
New this year: The city is now accepting applications from vendors interested in selling Illinois-produced beer, wine and spirits.
When: 7 a.m. to noon Saturdays, May 3-Nov. 1
Uncork Urbana, a wine festival
Who: Organizers hope to have between 10 to 15 wineries from around Illinois represented. In addition to sipping wine, people can attend cooking demonstrations and food pairing talks put on by Common Ground Food Co-Op and listen to live music.
When: 1-9 p.m. Saturday, June 14
Where: Busey Bank parking lot at Main and Race streets, downtown Urbana
Cost: It's a ticketed event. Admission is $10, which gets you a commemorative tasting glass and five tasting tickets. You can purchase additional tasting tickets and buy wine by the glass and by the bottle.