The 2014 Houston Wine Fest was held this past weekend and it again was an indication of how to not put on a wine festival. The fifth installment of the Houston Wine Fest showed that the organizers of the festival have not learned anything in past years as the festival keeps getting worse.
Let me give you a little history of the Houston Wine Fest. The festival is usually held at the end of September except for this year.
The festival was held at Sam Houston Park and there were approximately five Texas wineries participating. Texas Wine Lover did not start until 2011 so I did not need to keep good notes during our visit to the inaugural festival. We were just excited there was a Houston wine festival.
In fact, that same day we attended the Montgomery Wine Festival in the morning. We finished and being crazy wine lovers like we are, we headed to Houston for the wine festival. We were surprised to see there were less Texas wineries present compared to the Montgomery Wine Festival. There were arts and craft booths along with “wines of the world” in one location and then you got to the Texas wineries. It was very hot and there were long lines with people standing out in the sun to get a tasting from a winery. According to the 2011 press kit, the 2010 festival had over 12,000 guests.
We were looking forward to the 2011 Houston Wine Fest because we enjoy volunteering at wine festivals. We contacted the organizers to volunteer and we learned this was going to be the first year with no volunteers, but paid positions. We attended our interview and you can read more about the 2011 Houston Wine Festival with the post I wrote after.
The organizers explained there were going to be 18 wine tents with “wines of the world” and also Texas winery booths. It turned out they were only staffing for their wine tents and not placing people at the Texas winery booths. Over 20 Texas wineries were spread out throughout the park along with the “wines of the world” tents.
Unfortunately with the people having paid positions, most of those pourers did not know about the wine and were there to just collect a paycheck. I thought the festival was much better though because there was more wine, there were not long lines, and then I found out more after the festival.
Usually a festival has to pull a TABC festival permit, but in 2011 they did not have one, so the wineries had to use their own festival permits. The festival also had to make changes the week before the festival due to TABC conversations and told the wineries they had two options to select from on how they wanted to get paid. Some wineries chose unwisely because in some cases, it took months to get paid. At least one winery’s check bounced and at that time I heard three Texas wineries never got paid at all. Perhaps things did get cleared up with those wineries since then. While learning this, one winery I talked to even offered to help the organizers with information on how to run a wine festival.
The Houston Wine Fest this time was held at Tranquility Park. I had been told by one of the organizers that there was a change in the business model for 2012 because the 2011 festival’s Texas wineries put the Houston Wine Fest in the hole by many thousands of dollars. So there was a change in the business model and they were going to present only 100 wines, all non-Texas wines.
Earlier in the summer, we paid for a special tasting to determine what 100 wines to have at the wine festival. We met some of the festival organizers and received two VIP tickets for the festival so we could write more information about the Houston Wine Fest.
After the event, the Houston Wine Fest Facebook page lit up with negative comments. But those negative comments did not stay too long as a lot of the negative comments were being deleted.
One festival organizer, Timothy Hudson, who we had met earlier in the summer at the preview tasting, wanted to meet with me to get suggestions on how they could improve the festival. In the meantime, I had heard from some of the wineries who attended the 2011 festival and they offered their views on how the festival could be improved. I even had documents and suggestions ready from some wineries for our meeting. A few meeting times were set up between the organizer and I, but the organizer always ended up canceling on me, with the first reason being that they were “still putting out fires from the Wine Fest.”
The 2013 Houston Wine Fest was held at Hermann Square. We had gone to the Texas Reds Steak & Grape Festival the previous year which had been great and the 2013 Houston Wine Fest was being held the same weekend. Due to the previous year’s experience at the Houston Wine Fest and the no-shows by the organizer, we opted to drive to Bryan instead for their wine festival. After reading the negative comments on the Houston Wine Fest Facebook page, we made the right decision.
It turned out some wineries did not show up because of rain. Bryan also had rain, but the rain was not Houston’s only problem. One person complained they had to pay a $35 admission price and then buy drink tickets on top of that.
After the festival, the Houston Wine Fest posted the following statement:
“We finally have time to thank you all for coming out this weekend. We’re not here to offer any excuses to those that had a less than perfect experience. It’s our sincere apology if we did not meet your expectations and if you have an issue or concern please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. It’s never our intent to mislead our customers or take advantage of them. A number of our planned wineries were a no-show because of the forecast. As a result, we only had a few wineries present and we did our best to adjust. Again thank you to everyone that came out. The festival ended pretty smooth on Sunday and we look forward to hearing from you and seeing you in 2014 or 2015!!”
There were many replies to that comment and a lot of negative comments were deleted prompting comments like, “I think the fact that you guys are deleting people comments who have anything to say negative about your event is very disrespectful.”
Some comments still remain though. One comment was, “You have the same excuse last year that vendors cancelled due to the weather.” To which the reply from the festival was, “We cannot make vendors show up. If you have a better solution please let us know so we can fix our problem.” (Hmm, I tried doing that the previous year)
I do not know the exact details of the wineries that did not show up, but I know there was no shortage of Texas wineries in Bryan because I saw them there. One comment was, “Several of the wineries listed on the website NEVER committed to be there and do not know why their names are even listed there.”
Even worse is from one of the performers at the festival who said, “Well, I had a great time performing at the event but the check bounced and I have been trying to resolve this issue for the past few weeks… If I could get paid for the job I did, that would be nice.”
I don’t even know where to start on this year’s Houston Wine Fest. Nothing was said about the festival until August 18th when they proclaimed, “2014 Houston Wine Fest November 1st at Jones Plaza! Tickets go on sale soon!!!” One person questioned that it wasn’t going to be in September like previous years and the reply was, “No we’ve had the bad luck of rain for the last two years during September.”
A Facebook event page was created for the November 1st festival and at one point there were 1,656 people going. Obviously things change because the date changed from November 1st to November 22nd. Jones Plaza was obviously not the place either because they put on their Facebook page November 17th, “Please note! Houston Wine Fest is NOT taking place at Jones Plaza on November 22nd. If you have purchased tickets to this event, you should contact the event organizer for information on the location.”
On November 18th, there was a strong chance of rain for the Saturday, so the Houston Wine Fest announced they would be moving the event to an indoor location, and that location would be announced that day. That announcement didn’t happen and a day before the festival, they announced the 2014 Houston Wine Fest would be held at Fox Hollow. They also said, “Doors will open at 1pm and the event will end at 9pm. There will be food trucks on site and plenty of wine, including a full bar. We encourage you to bring cash to purchase samples and full glasses.”
If you do not know what Fox Hollow is, it is a bar. That’s right, 1,656 people who said they were attending the 2014 Houston Wine Fest at Jones Plaza were now going to a bar. That’s why the Houston Wine Fest said to bring cash to purchase samples and full glasses of wine.
The negative comments started immediately to which the reply was, “You can get a refund if you like. We can’t control the weather and we didn’t want to cancel the event.” In this case, canceling the event probably would have been the best thing to save face. But they did promise, “There will be plenty of giveaways (including free wine), live entertainment, a full bar, and TV’s showing all of the games tomorrow.”
A lot of people had bought advance tickets through companies like LivingSocial. The advantage of using one of these companies is the wine festival gets advance money, learns how many people are going, and the guests buying the advance tickets get a deal. With the Houston Wine Fest freely offering refunds, the likelihood of people asking for a refund is not high, so the wine festival still makes money without people coming. All they have to do is deal with the negative comments.
But they didn’t have to deal with the negative comments for long. Soon based with previous experience, they started deleting the many negative comments, and for some of those who had said something negative, they were then unable to comment at all or even Like other people’s comments.
I knew this was going to be an interesting event and waited for the comments to appear afterward. And sure enough, the comments came. Some of them were:
- “This event is awful. We paid $10 dollars to get in and have to pay $6 for a glass of wine. There are no tastings and the bartenders know nothing about the wine. Do not attend.”
- “You’re basically paying cover to get in a bar…5 different wines…$50 a bottle and $2 samples.”
- “It’s a bar where you pay for samples or buy alcohol. But there is a hot dog stand out front.” (Editor: Doesn’t sound like “food trucks” as promised)
- “NONE of the things that were promised in your follow up email about the venue change actually happened – NO free wine samples (charged $2 each?), NO vendors, NO live music. Just sleazy bar that charged for everything including parking. You should be completely embarrassed since this was nothing short of FRAUD! Seriously… it would have been better to cancel the event completely.”
Even worse, the bar ran out of wine! How could a wine festival who supposedly was prepared to have over a thousand people attend run out of wine and even promised “plenty of wine?” One guest posted a sign from the bar for the wine selection with some wines already being crossed out as not available.
It didn’t take long Sunday morning though to have the people in charge of the festival’s page on Facebook to start doing their damage control by the common practice of deleting comments. In fact to make it really easy, they just deleted large blocks of their own statuses which had negative comment replies. To be fair, there was one positive comment from a person who on their Facebook profile seems associated with one of the performers.
After also canceling the Facebook event page which easily deleted all evidence, the Houston Wine Fest posted, “We would like to thank everyone that came out yesterday. We would also like to thank Annika Chambers Music and Luther and the Healers for putting on great performances! We understand moving the event inside changed the dynamics of the event and we do apologize. The next Houston Wine Fest will be held in the Spring in our traditional setting.”
Besides the one positive comment person from before, one person got in the valid statement, “Deleting previous posts with complaints about the event doesn’t instill a lot of trust in your reputation.”
It is a real shame that the fourth largest city in the United States cannot put on a decent wine festival, but the problem is the organizers have been the same ones trying to do it. The inaugural festival was okay but few Texas wineries were present. The second year was better with a larger selection of wine from both Texas wineries and international wines. However, the organizers again ruined that festival by making most of the Texas wineries upset and having them refuse to come again.
From then on, the Houston Wine Fest has just gotten worse. You would think someone would learn from their mistakes and the next year would be better. We have seen that at other local wine festivals and it is always better the next year, not worse.
Perhaps pouring rain the past three years in September and now an odd day in November might be trying to send a message. But now Houston wine drinkers need to be prepared to attend a spring version of the Houston Wine Fest. Fortunately for the organizers, people soon forget and new people arrive to Houston.
Bottom line, if the Houston Wine Fest organizers really want to put on a wine festival instead of just taking advantage of and making a profit off Houston wine drinkers, they should visit some neighboring towns who put on a decent wine festival and learn how they do it successfully.
Some towns nearby who do this are Old Town Spring, Pearland, Montgomery, and Bryan. In fact, they should talk to Bryan first because they put on a larger wine festival and it gets better every year. We have volunteered at most of these festivals, so if you, Houston Wine Fest, are really serious about putting on a wine festival, I can most likely get you a contact at one of these festivals. Let me know.