A First-Timers Visit to a Wine Festival
It was my first time at the National Harbor Food and Wine Festival this past Sunday. Walking around with a light buzz, delicious food and wine everywhere, and a perfectly sunny day, it couldn’t have been a better Sunday alternative to Cinco de Mayo margaritas and chaos.
Honestly, I’m a wine newbie. All I know about wine is that there are ones I like, mainly red wines, and then there are those I don’t. And while I love food, I don’t know if I’d call myself a foodie — I just like to eat! So I was a little apprehensive as to what kind of older, more refined crowd I was to encounter on the pier. But instead of the hoity-toity, stuffy crowd I imagined, I met the most amazingly down-to-earth and friendly wine loving festival-goers and vendors.
With wine glass in hand and plenty of free tastings up and down the piers, everyone had at least a slight buzz going. The sun was out and just about everyone was warm, tipsy and happy. All I had to do was go up to a vendor and explain that I was new to wine. Without judgment, they’d walk me through their wine selection and guide my palate through a carefully prepared journey from the light, sweeter wines to the more full-bodied ones. There was never any pressure to buy a bottle, no tsk-tsking for any faux pas I may have made (like not going through the Five S‘s of wine tasting like a true connoisseur). Every vendor seemed genuinely happy to just share their wine and story with someone willing to listen and have a taste.
Wine exhibitors were just a portion of the types of vendors were present. There were plenty of liquor and beer stations scattered around. Also, beef vendors, olive oil providers, cheesemakers, chocolatiers and dog biscuit makers among others. I met a man selling stunning, functional kitchen items and decor out of old, recycled wine barrels. I met another man, a high school teacher from Bowie, Md., selling rustic wood decor appropriate for a log house or a man cave. He explained that aside from teaching, creating the wooden pieces on his table was his passion. That was it! The reason why my fellow festival-goers and vendors were laid-back and good-humored was not simply because they were slightly drunk, but also because they were in their element. Every vendor I met spoke about their product like it was meaningful to them, a pride and passion. Their enthusiasm was contagious and charming. It made me feel welcome in a place where I could have felt so out of place.
The VIP pier
I met a couple on the VIP Pier who go to the festival every year. They told me a little bit about their experience. Although the festival officially began on Saturday, they decided to get tickets for Sunday. The wife explained that on Sundays there’s a more relaxed ambiance and fewer people. We had both heard the same complaints that Saturday was oversold and had more people than would have been optimal. People ended up having to wait in long lines for tastings and the restroom, and vendors actually ran out. So Sunday was their preferred day.
And VIP pier tickets? Definitely worth the extra bucks. I took my time working my way down to the VIP pier, but ended up spending most of my time there. This is where all the best exhibitors are — beer, wine and food. From pineapple cucumber cous-cous and gourmet cheeses to San Miniato sausage with truffles and Georgia peach brisket sliders, the VIP tickets are worth the snacks themselves! The wines here were also fantastic and the tasting pours generous. I don’t know if it was coordinated, but the tasting offers on the VIP pier were practically half a glass instead of the small sips I received on the other pier. Needless to say, you could get away with not even getting a drink ticket because the tasting pours are sufficient (especially if you’re a lightweight like me!). There was also specialty champagne, sake, whisky and a lovely Stella Artois Belgian beer cafe.
The wines on the VIP pier were high-end, some bottles running over $500 each. But I gathered that these wine exhibitors were not necessarily there to collect large amounts of revenue, but to build awareness about a quality product they helped make or market. I was doing a tasting with a man at the Vina Robles table when he noticed my press badge for DC on Heels. We got to talking about the blogging world. He said that with the changes in the publishing industry, wine makers don’t really know how to use the Internet to push their wines. Previously, all they needed was a solid review in a prominent newspaper or magazine, or wine critic like local Robert Parker. Now, with so many opinionated bloggers out there, the man at the festival said it’s difficult to build a noticeable online presence for their wines. But he shrugged it off and offered me another pour. I asked him which was his favorite. Rookie mistake.
“Ah, I have no favorite. For us, there are no flaws in these wines. Each wine has its own time, its own place, its own friend. There will be a time for a particular wine, but it depends. So I can’t tell you which one is my favorite, but you can try them and decide which one’s yours.”
I was sad to leave the pier. That short blissful afternoon wine-ing down on the water may have made a wino out of me.