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Ravinia Ideas - Wine for Summer Music Festivals & Picnics

Food, wine, and fun at Ravinia
A beautiful summer night at Ravinia

It's that time of year again - when Chicago awakes from its winter slumber (since there was no spring), and people start gearing up to spend the next four months doing anything and everything outdoors. From now until October, Chicago boasts an assortment of street festivals every weekend, countless rooftop and patio parties, and some of the most beautiful parks and lakefront views in the world. However, just north of the city lies one of the most overlooked festivals - Ravinia. It's one of my favorite places to go in the summer, but it's best if you go prepared. Here's a quick guide to doing Ravinia the right way.

1)  Bring great wine (and beer) - There are lots of amazing things about Ravinia, but my personal favorite is the fact that it's BYOB, which is truly awesome for a concert venue. Since a glass of wine or a beer can cost up to $10 at a concert, this is a perk that you should take full advantage of, and we've found the absolute best wines for you to bring. These Piccola Wine Totes are perfect for drinking at Ravinia, on a rooftop, or at a picnic. They're delicious, portable, and cost-effective - each tote holds two bottles of wine for less than $12 per bottle.  

If you're still skeptical of wine in a bag (which you shouldn't be - the whole Winestyr team keeps these on hand at their homes), here are a couple of other great options:

As for beer, here are some of our favorite craft breweries that you can find in the Chicagoland area: Two Brothers Brewing Co., Lakefront Brewery, Lagunitas Brewing Company, and 3 Floyds. Be sure to pack a cooler with ice on those hot summer nights to keep your beers cold and your wines chilled.  

2)  Bring delicious finger foods - To complement your selection of craft wines and to round out the perfect picnic, you're going to need an awesome lineup of cheeses, dips, and finger foods.

Pastoral is our favorite spot in Chicago for cheese, and you can't go wrong with any of these cheese and charcuterie platters that serve anywhere from 8-20 people. Publican Quality Meats is another great option for catered food platters. We recommend making some dips at home and packing them in tupperware for the concert. Here's a great post from Real Simple magazine with 10 easy-to-make party dips that would all be great for Ravinia. Some other personal favorite finger foods include mini cuban sandwiches, fresh shrimp with a spicy cocktail sauce, and BBQ chicken tacos.

3)  Pick a chill concert -  If you're not familiar, Ravinia Festival is basically a giant picnic with some great music going on in the background. Yes, there are pavilion seats where you can see the band, but most of us go to enjoy a nice summer night with friends. The sound quality is good, not great, so I prefer to attend the concerts that will serve as a nice complement to a good conversation, great food, and lots of craft wine. Here are some of my favorite shows for the summer of 2013: Jewel, Jackson Browne, Darius RuckerMatchbox Twenty/Goo Goo Dolls, Sheryl Crow, OneRepublic, Gipsy Kings, and Chicago. If you're not into any of those bands, I'd recommend checking out the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.  Here's the bottom line: as long as you bring some close friends, you're sure to have a good time, which leads to my next point.

4)  Assemble a good group - I typically like to head to Ravinia with a group of 5-10 good friends or family members. That being said, it's also a great spot for a hot date. My biggest caution would be going with too big of a group. Space on the lawn is limited, and it's tough to plan accordingly for a group of much more than 10 people. Keep it small, and you'll be good to go.

5)  Arrive as early as possible - Most of the concerts start around 7pm and the gates open around 5pm.  For weekend shows, it's best to arrive right when the gates open. These are generally more crowded, and since most of you won't be coming from work, there's no excuse for not getting there early and grabbing some prime real estate. For weeknight shows, make sure you arrive by 6pm at the latest. The entire experience is much more enjoyable if you grab a nice spot and set up shop early so you can relax, enjoy the sunset, and break into a few too many bottles of wine. If you're coming from downtown, The Union Pacific North Line on the Metra is a great way to get to and from the concert.

Folding Picnic Table6)  Pack comfortable folding chairs, a table, and blankets - This may seem like an obvious suggestion, but it's a critical one. Comfortable chairs are crucial if you're going to be hanging out for four or five hours - a mistake on this front can be a fatal one. Ideally, you'll also bring a collapsable table to show off your epic spread of food and wine. Here's a picnic table that we really love, and it's only $45. If you don't have a table, your best bet is to lay out the food and wine on a blanket or two.  Also, it's always a good idea to bring a couple of extra blankets in case it gets chilly once the sun goes down.

Now that you have a step by step guide to planning a successful trip to Ravinia, chat us through the bottom right corner of Winestyr to receive recommendations on which wines you should order - we'll even give you $10 off your first purchase.  Cheers!

By Scott Washburn

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