Festival of the Vine: A Celebration of Food, Wine and Community

This annual festival in downtown Geneva is a true kickoff to fall and a heartfelt celebration that embraces the essence of the season.

If you’re searching for an amusing way to welcome the autumn season, look no further than Festival of the Vine, scheduled for Sept. 8-10 in downtown Geneva. With a rich history spanning more than four decades, this annual event has grown into a celebration of fall that now showcases the best of the city’s restaurants, wines and community spirit.

“The festival was originally conceived with a few card tables and a couple of restaurants, and now it has developed into a kickoff to autumn for many people,” says Laura Rush, communication director for the Geneva Chamber of Commerce, which organizes the event. “People just love to be outside and dine al fresco, and Festival of the Vine offers them a chance to eat, drink, congregate with friends, enjoy the camaraderie and listen to free music outside.”

As a prelude, the Geneva Chamber of Commerce welcomes WGN Radio host John Williams at SaveWay Fine Wine & Spirits, in Geneva, on Aug. 17. Those who purchase tickets to this new offering have the chance to meet Williams and preview some of the wines and foods available at this year’s festival.

A few weeks later, the fun kicks off on James Street between Fourth and Fifth streets downtown. While there’s much to enjoy during this three-day gathering, the centerpiece of the festival is the Flavor Fare.

Typically, more than 15 restaurants and a handful of craft beverage vendors arrive with a showcase of samples. Previous years brought treats such as chicken poblano tacos from Altiro Latin Fusion and pulled pork or fillet medallion sliders from Geneva Ale House. These delectable edibles are crafted so that they pair up perfectly with the wine and beer that are also served here. Those who purchase tickets for the Flavor Fare use their tickets to pay for each food or drink sample.

In the background, Festival of the Vine offers an array of free entertainment throughout the weekend. Visitors can revel in the energetic and dynamic performances of bands like Wild Daisy, a female-fronted country band set to take the stage Friday at 7:30 p.m.

The following day, Feel Good Party Band, a Chicago-based tribute band, performs popular party jams from the past six decades. Planet Groove, a lively ensemble specializing in dance hits from the 1960s to today, graces the stage Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Festival of the Vine and its Flavor Fare are specially geared for the over-21 crowd, but that doesn’t mean families can’t have their fun, too. An arts and crafts show surrounds the county courthouse lawn on Saturday and Sunday, so visitors can browse unique items for fall and the upcoming holidays. Complimentary carriage rides provide a charming way to explore downtown and participating shops.

“The carriage rides will pick you up right on the corner of James and Third and take you around the block and through downtown Geneva,” says Rush. “It’s a nice thing to do, and kids love it.”

For those planning to attend the Festival of the Vine for the first time, Rush says it’s a good idea to stroll around the festival before purchasing food and drink tickets, so you can see all that’s available and know how many tickets to buy. Rush also advises arriving early and staying late, as the evenings tend to bring out the crowds.

The Geneva Chamber of Commerce hosts several festivals throughout the year, but Festival of the Vine holds a special place in the hearts of residents and visitors alike.

“This is probably my favorite festival of the four that we put on,” says Rush. “I like the fall, so that could be one of the reasons. But to be honest, it’s just a nice atmosphere combined with good people who are happy because they’re eating, drinking and listening to free music.”