The Windy City Wine Festival Preview - Look for Lauren Parton, Sommelier

Lauren Parton and the Kimpton Gray Hotel have an important role in the Windy City Wine Festival  to be held at Buckingham Fountain on Friday, Sept. 8 from 5:00PM - 10:00PM & Saturday, Sept. 9 from 3:00PM - 8:00PM. Lauren will be hosting one of the booths at the festival and the Kimpton Gray which is the official hotel for the Windy City Wine Festival. Tickets are still available at the Windy City Wine Festive website


Approaching the Kimpton Gray Hotel

The festival is a terrific event, which provides an opportunity to sample from more than 300 wines from around the world. Learn about new and exciting varieties from the experts in a relaxed festival setting. Wine seminars and cooking demonstrations are conducted by event sponsors, exhibiting wineries, area chefs and restaurateurs. Some of the area's best restaurants and caterers will sell their signature dishes. Live music will be performed on the festival stage. Part of the event proceeds will benefit the Grant Park Conservancy.


Prior to the festival, I visited Lauren in her special spot in the Kimpton Gray Hotel, which is tucked off the hotel’s lobby. It is Vol. 39 , a unique space to enjoy snacks and beverages. The building in which the Kimpton Gray Hotel is located, dates to 1894 and was, at that time, Chicago’s third skyscraper.  The building housed law and business offices and now, all that remains of those offices are the huge law books that grace the hotel’s lobby.  Between the hours of 4 and 8 pm you will find, Chicago native, Lauren Parton, Sommelier extraordinaire, taking care of her guests.  Lauren brings to Kimpton a wide range of experience and skills that have created a special atmosphere for inhabitants of Chicago’s financial district.  Her goal is to bring non-mainstream wines to the forefront of the sophisticated lobby bar’s expansive wine program in her efforts to make lesser-known varieties easy to understand and digest.


Boleo on the roof, Photo: Courtesy of the Kimpton Gray Hotel


Empanada, Photo: Courtesy of the Kimpton Gray Hotel

In addition to her contribution to Vol. 39,  Parton also selects wines for Boleo, the rooftop restaurant at Kimpton. Boleo exudes Latin American cocktail bar culture, European sophistication and a downright stylish edge. Featuring a discerning catalog of authentic cocktails, a menu inspired by Argentinean and Peruvian street food, live music, and a retractable roof, Boleo lets the festivities happen year-round. Providing upscale beats 15 floors above the street, it provides a stylish stop in the Chicago Loop's bustling Financial District.


Real law books line the shelves


Speaking with Parton at the Kimpton Gray Hotel which is the newest Four Diamond Hotel in Chicago.  I found its old world charm in modern packaging, charming and intriguing. I was captivated by the stories Parton shared of her Chicago roots, her career, the wines she selects, and more.  Her grandparents met in Chicago and she was born here.  After living in many places she returned to Chicago at age 18 and began a meteoric rise first in food (her mother was a caterer) and then in wine.  She became a Sommelier in 2009. She then joined the opening bar team at award winning Drumbar, working as a bartender alongside famed  bartender, Benjamin Newby, where she developed a passion for fusing the worlds of food and beverage to create innovative drinkable and edible cocktails. From there, Lauren was instrumental in leading the award-winning beverage programs at the W Hotel and Loews Chicago. Described as the “Greatest Mixologist in the World” by Emmy-award winning daytime television host, Steve Harvey, Lauren soon after coined the term “Libationist,” a tongue in cheek play on made up words used to describe molecular bartending.


A well stocked bar


We talked about newer trends in wine including bio-dynamic wines, hand picked grapes and a pruning approach that is aimed at longevity, so that the vines can live to thirty, forty and even one hundred years. She favors traditional wines often from France, Italy and Australia. A glass of wine made of the nearly extinct kerner grape was just delicious and a strong encouragement for more tasting at the festival.


The beautiful marble staircase, Photo: Courtesy of the Kimpton Gray Hotel


Photos: B. Keer unless otherwise specified.

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