The 31st Annual GrapeFest – A Texas Wine Experience was held in historic downtown Grapevine September 14-17, 2017. The festival, which spans a half-mile section of Main Street, is jam-packed with attractions for wine lovers. The largest wine festival in the Southwest, GrapeFest drew over 260,000 people in 2016. Each year the event seems to grow larger as more features are added. The schedule offered a robust lineup including many wine tasting opportunities, live entertainment, a midway and carnival for the kids, a car show, and a tennis tournament. The number of options at GrapeFest is almost overwhelming. What is a Texas Wine Lover to do? Focus on the wine tastings and vinous vendors, of course!
Finger Lakes and Niagara-on-the-Lake Wine Region Experiences
Each year, GrapeFest offers wine tasting experiences highlighting two regions around the world. This year, the Finger Lakes of New York and Niagara-on-the-Lake in Canada were featured. Tickets for these tastings cost $14 and include six 1-oz. pours of wines from the selected region. I visited GrapeFest Thursday morning and decided to taste wine from the Finger Lakes region. The tasting area looked festive with Canadian and New York State flags waving in a shady courtyard. Attendance was light, and the heat of the day had not yet become stifling. Sadly, the volunteers were not ready to pour at the appointed time, and many of the wines advertised were not yet on site. I tasted what was available, but I was disappointed that no winery representatives were there to discuss their wines. In fact, the volunteers were spread so thin that not all of the seven wineries’ booths were staffed. I am still yearning for that 2006 Brut that never arrived!
People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic
I went back to GrapeFest on Sunday afternoon to attend the popular People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic. This required a separate $25 ticket, and unlike Thursday’s visit, there was an $8 admission fee to enter GrapeFest. There are 11 different chances to attend the People’s Choice Wine Tasting, and the two Sunday sessions were the only ones that did not sell out. The event took place in a parking lot that was transformed by a large open-air tent and a number of cooling fans. I checked in and received a tasting glass and a helpful printed guide to the 39 participating wineries. The guide did not include a map of the winery booth locations within the tent, and this made finding specific booths tricky.
I picked up a ballot at my first booth and started tasting and making notes. The ballot separated the 145 featured wines into categories including white/red/rosé and dry/off-dry/sweet. Categories for red wine also included bold reds and red blends. I did not attempt to sample every wine in any category, although this is a popular approach to tasting and voting. With the 90-minute time limit and my inability to find the wineries’ booths quickly, I simply looked for interesting wines, notable wineries, and short lines. It was difficult to engage winery representatives in discussion since they were so busy pouring. Instead, I relied on the tasting notes in the guide and flagged a few pages for further research.
The People’s Choice tasting experience is not for everyone. The frenetic pace doesn’t allow for thoughtful evaluation of each wine. However, it was nice to try several different Viognier bottlings in a row, as well as various styles of Blanc du Bois. The event introduces attendees to wineries and varietals that they might otherwise overlook. It gave me several more wineries to add to my list of places to visit. All in all, it was money well spent.
Historic downtown Grapevine offers unique shops and numerous winery tasting rooms along Main Street. Since afternoon temperatures were in the mid-90’s, visiting the air-conditioned stores and wineries proved to be a popular pastime. I enjoyed browsing through the wine-related merchandise at several shops and then watched a sculptor working on a new piece of art in a cute art gallery.
Tasting rooms rearranged furniture to maximize space and offered tasting specials in advance of the anticipated crowds. I stopped by Sloan & Williams Winery and discovered they had streamlined their menu in order to simplify operations during the rush. Speaking with Nicholas Kaufman of Wine Fusion Winery, I learned the winery is now offering frozen wine pops, wine ‘ritas and eight craft ciders on tap. I tried the Orange Mimosa wine pop made by Texas-based SocialIce. The wine pops are 5% alcohol by volume, and one is roughly equivalent to consuming 1/3 glass of wine. Refreshing!
Food and Wine
Reminiscent of the State Fair of Texas, food choices included kettle corn, corndogs, and fried treats of every kind. Other interesting options included made-to-order crepes and dumplings from popular Austin-based food trucks. Fun non-alcoholic beverage options included a clever spot that offered unlimited daily refills of natural teas, soda, and lemonade. The drinks were served out of dispensers that looked like kegs.
Wine drinkers congregated at the Champagne Terrace where sparkling wines were available by the glass. Thursday morning found early birds seeking mimosas, but there was no orange juice to be found. The Grapevine Wine Pavilion featured selections from wineries with tasting rooms in Grapevine. Red wine drinkers must have outnumbered white wine drinkers. Two of the three dry red wine selections were sold out by Sunday afternoon.
Artists and Vendors
A number of wine-related artists and vendors caught my eye amidst the sea of home décor items, jewelry, and personalized gifts.
Making his first appearance as a vendor at GrapeFest, Michael Sides showcased gorgeous custom furniture he makes from wine barrels. His light fixtures, shelving, tables, and chairs are crafted from wine barrel staves, barrel heads, and even metal hoops. I was pleased to learn that Michael is a Texas Wine Lover supporter! You may recognize his work from the tasting room at Lost Draw Cellars in Fredericksburg where his son Andrew is a co-founder.
D-Patt Wine Bottle Stoppers offers hand-made bottle stoppers made from both exotic woods and deer antlers. The stoppers can be customized with medallions featuring your favorite sports team, profession, or wine quote. My friend was able to find stoppers featuring her favorite teams – Xavier and West Virginia! What a selection!
Not sure what to do with all of your corks? How about a custom cork box! The Corkbox Shoppe sells a glass front box with an etching of your choice. Hang your corkbox on the wall, and drop in your old corks. Corkboxes on display at GrapeFest included names and wedding dates, sports logos, and clever wine sayings. Beer cap versions are available too.
Austin-based Michael Cousins makes the most unique artwork I saw at GrapeFest. He recreates famous portraits using wine corks. Michael sells both the original cork pieces, housed in specially made frames, or prints of his work. His cork portraits include the Mona Lisa, George Washington, and Benjamin Franklin. In addition to being an artist, Michael is a student of the grape, having completed both WSET and Court of Master Sommelier courses.
Finally, d’marie offers a wine slushie mix, or “frappe’ vino.” The mix is a powdered product that is mixed with wine (or liquor) and then frozen. d’Marie is a family owned company from Ohio that has been making this product for over 10 years. The mix showcases the flavor of the wine you add, so you can pick the type of slushie you want. Froze’ perhaps? The all natural green tea, dried cranberry juice, and cane sugar based slushie was a cool treat on a hot day.
Here are my top tips for Texas Wine Lovers:
- Check out the GrapeFest website to plan your visit. The mobile site was difficult to navigate, so stick with the desktop version.
- If you live nearby, consider attending the wine events that lead up to GrapeFest. Several wine pairing dinners, a wine and cheese event, and a black tie gala celebrating the Texas wine industry were held before GrapeFest officially began.
- Plan in advance to attend the People’s Choice Wine Tasting Classic. Most sessions sell out!
- If you attend the ticketed regional wine tastings, schedule it for later in the festival to ensure the wines advertised will be available.
- Feeling adventurous? Find a partner and participate in the Grape Stomp or the Champagne Cork Shoot Off!
- Don’t miss the huge kid’s area if you have children in tow. Maybe they’ll even catch a glimpse of the giant bunch of grapes on stilts.
- Consider volunteering next year. It takes over 2,500 volunteers to pull off an event of this magnitude.
I’ll be back to Grapevine soon. GrapeFest is great fun, and the wine flows on Main Street all year long.