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Nichole Thomas, Cristal Reader and Lisa Beber are three wine-loving friends who are willing to travel to indulge their passion for the fermented grape.
Every summer, they attend the Vintage Indiana Wine & Food Festival in Indianapolis where they can taste hundreds of wines made by Indiana vintners.
They have long wondered why Fort Wayne doesn’t host a similarly expansive showcase of high-quality Hoosier plonk.
“Usually when we say that, we’re about a bottle of wine in,” Thomas said.
Fort Wayne offers many wine-centered events, of course, but nothing on the scale of Vintage Indiana. Craft beer is the libation that has garnered much of the attention of Northwest Indiana tipplers in recent years.
“Most [local wine-centered events] are beer and wine festivals, and they have a limited number of wineries involved, maybe six to eight,” Thomas said. “If you’re not a beer drinker, then half of the ticket is kind of lost on you.”
So these friends decided to stop wondering and create their own event.
It’s called the Michiana Wine Festival, and it happens April 29 in Headwaters Park East.
Thomas said that the festival quickly outgrew their initial conception of it.
“We kind of got into the thinking of, ‘Oh, we’ll have 10 wineries. That would be great. Ten wineries from across the state,'” she said. “We’re up 16 now. That’s the most wineries that anybody in Fort Wayne has had in one place.”
Area faves like TWO-EE’s Winery, Country Heritage and Byler Lane will be in attendance, of course, but so will Buck Creek, Cedar Creek, Easley Winery, Fruitshinewine, Hartland Winery, Heagy Vineyards, Hedgegrove Meadery and Winery, Tippy Creek, Carousel, Rettig Hill Winery, Winzerwald Winery, Running Vines Winery and Satek.
Thomas said that they marketed the festival to prospective wineries as a “mini Vintage,” meaning a smaller scale version of the Vintage Indiana Wine & Food Festival.
In addition to the 16 wineries, there will be nine food trucks on site, live local music and a spring craft market.
Cost is $30 per person in advance.
“I feel like $30 is a great ticket price,” Thomas said. “A lot of wine events are two and three hours long. This is six full hours. You get a glass when you walk in the door if you’re among the first 4,000. After that you’ll get a plastic cup. You basically can take that around and choose from among 100 wine samples.”
It is easy to make a person think they hate wine by serving them the wrong one at a dinner or reception, Thomas said, explaining why a festival like this is so essential.
“I didn’t like wine at all before my girlfriends and I went on a wine trip,” she said. “I didn’t know ‘wine tasting’ existed before eight years ago, that you could go to a winery and sample and find the wine that you like. Palates are so different that it’s hard to choose a wine to serve at an event. With a festival like this, people can come out and find the wines that they do like.
“Maybe they’ll come away from this and decide that they still hate all wines,” Thomas said, laughing. “And that’s important information to have.”
Thomas said admission to this inaugural edition of the festival is, by necessity, 21 and older. They may try to incorporate a family element in the future.
The night before the festival there will be a 5K run (culminating in glasses of wine for participants). The night of the festival there will be a concert in the pavilion featuring Knit Cap Vigilantes and the Fort Wayne Funk Orchestra.
Pre-purchased cost for the latter is an additional $15 for people who plan to attend the festival and $20 total for people who do not.
Tickets for the festival and separate concert are available at area Kroger stores, participating wineries and at Rudy’s Shop downtown.
Thomas said they hope to be able to use both sides of the park in the future.
“The sky is the limit,” she said. “We have really good relations with the people who run Vintage Indiana. Originally, we thought, ‘Oh, my gosh. We’re only six weeks ahead of them. They’re going to think we’re competition.’ But they didn’t see it that way at all. They see this as a collaboration. We’re all on the same team, trying to get more people to drink Indiana wine.”