Monday, April 14, 2008

Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival—Growing Pains at 3

At the first Blue Ridge Wine Festival in 2006 I fell in love with the friendly community, mountain scenery, free wine classes, and fun tasting that introduced me to North Carolina wines.
This year, changes were afoot, such as wine classes charging fees. Good things can’t last forever--and at least you know you'll get a seat--so I didn’t mind paying $10 for Wine and Food Pairing, or even $35 for Vintage Wine Tasting. The main tasting remained an incredible bargain—$25 in advance.
But it was the grand tasting that changed for the worse. This year it was opened to wines from around the world. While it’s nice to try wines from Chile, Italy, or California, the festival lost its native charm. I’m not sure why, but many North Carolina producers we enjoyed previously, such as Rag Apple Lassie, were no-shows. In 2006, I got a good sense of the North Carolina wine industry—where it was at and where it was headed. I met quality producers who were experimenting with different grapes and had begun producing nice reds in particular. This year, the North Carolina wineries were just one more table to get a pour.
The crowd was too dense at the peak of the tasting, leading us to question the layout of tables and the inclusion of a Hummer—yes, a Hummer—within the tent as a promotion. When someone set off the car’s super-loud alarm, the band jokingly played in time.
This year, there was less of a genteel air…cheese platters that had been artfully arranged were thrust onto tables by harried volunteers. Breaking wine glasses were met with loud cheers.
The most noticeable flaw was producers ran out of wine before the end. One distributor grossly underestimated what to bring and was tapped out two hours early. “But,” I, remarked to a friendly southern lady, “An afternoon drinking wine is still hard to beat.”
There were many other events surrounding the weekend that I didn’t make it to: wine dinners, a chef’s challenge, and more. This four day wine festival does have a lot to offer, and the classes, especially the ones taught by Johnson & Wales faculty, are very well run. In addition, my family and I are always charmed by Blowing Rock. This town has a real sense of place. You can feel it in the unique lunch joint Sonny’s Grill: burgers served on wax paper in a tiny, eight stool, three table restaurant. Or strolling down the small main street and chatting with the storekeepers who always have time to talk.
I’ll probably skip this festival for a couple years, but for those who’d like to go I recommend spending more time at the peripheral events and going early to the grand tasting.

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