Sample regional wines at festival
Necessity is the mother of invention, and that little pearl of wisdom is apparent when talking about the origins of the Michiana Wine Festival which comes to Fort Wayne for its third annual outing on April 26-27.
In three short years, the event has evolved quickly, but in the beginning it was really about three friends — Nichole Thomas, Lisa Beber, and Cristal Reader — who hatched a plan.
Friends uncork a festival
“We were all friends,” Thomas said. “I was Girl Scout leader for the troop all of our daughters were in, and we would get together. One day we were asking ourselves, ‘Why do we go to all these wine festivals in other places? Why don’t we have a wine festival in Fort Wayne?’
“It’s been a labor of love. We all have day jobs, but this is truly a labor of love.”
The first year, looking for some good ways to bring people in and infuse some life into a new event, the trio brought about 50 booths to the craft show portion of the weekend.
Now, having fine-tuned the process a bit, there will be 30 booths. But the number of wineries — the main draw anyway — has increased this year to 21, up from 18 last year. There will also be music and 15 food trucks on hand.
“The $30 ticket gives you admission as well as the tastings from the wineries,” Thomas said. “Some places charge admission and then require tickets to do the tastings. People will have to pay for food from the trucks, but they’ll be offering special menus with smaller bites so that people can sample from a variety of the trucks also.”
The Sweetwater stage will feature performances by Adam Strack, Jon Durnell, Samuel Harness, and Sunny Taylor.
The wine is central
But naturally the wine aspect is key to the weekend’s success. With wineries from Indiana and Michigan participating, there will be something for everyone and every taste, white to red, sweet to dry.
Two EE’s Winery in Huntington returns for its third time, bringing along a bit more than they have at past events.
“We historically have brought four wines, two dry red and white wines, and two sweet red and white wines,” said Stephanie McIntyre, director of marketing and events for Two EE’s. “This year, we are expanding our offerings a bit more to give Michiana Wine Festival visitors some variety. We also bring a high-power machine to sell wine slushies.”
Tonne Winery in Muncie will also be bringing a selection to accommodate differing tastes, planning to offer six options. They are among the regional wineries seeing a burst of sales on site and at festivals.
“People enjoy going to wineries more now than ever,” said Michelle Tinch from Tonne. “Festivals give them a chance to experience several different wineries in one setting.”
Of course, if 21 wineries are all bringing a variety of tastes, things can get a bit overwhelming.
“We’ve found that as the day goes on, it is harder to remember what you tasted, and where,” McIntyre said. “Wine festivals are fun when there’s a lot of new wines, so we recommend focusing on tasting wines that you haven’t had before, and if you like a bottle, to buy it right away, otherwise you might end up waiting in a long line and possibly not able to get it, if it has already sold out.
“We also recommend making a note for yourself so after you’ve had some wine, you don’t forget which bottles from each winery that you need to pick up at the wine pick up station.”
There is also the matter of alcohol consumption and how to ward off any ill effects. Tinch recommends, “Take advantage of the food vendors!” while Brenda Lockhart, who owns Hartland Winery with her husband, reminds people to be responsible.
“Most wineries will not serve you if you are intoxicated, so just don’t go there,” Lockhart said. “Pace yourself. Eat something. Take a break and listen to some music.”
Hartland Winery, located in Ashley, will be bringing a few of their popular selections, likely six, for the Michiana Wine Festival.
“Our best-selling wine is Grandma’s Little Secret, which we will be bringing,” Lockhart said. “We also have a red blend that won double gold and best in class at the Indy International Wine Competition last year called Chalet Reserve. It’s a blend of six different red grapes that have been aged in oak barrels and then further aged in bourbon barrels. We will be bringing that as well. We are doing several wines in bourbon barrels. We are always trying to come up with something a little different than everyone else.”
Take a taste test
While the samples will be small, given the number of people expected to attend, a lot of free wine will be flowing. Like McIntyre, Lockhart suggests planning on lines and plotting a strategy.
“Plan on standing in line. With 21 wineries you probably aren’t going to get to all of them so maybe do some that you’ve never been to before. Or ones that you haven’t been to in a while. All the wineries are giving away a lot of free samples so purchases are very much appreciated.”
Thomas hopes the late April weather will cooperate and will help make this the biggest Michiana Wine Festival to date.
“Last year we had 4,000 attend, and ticket sales are on par with that so far. It wouldn’t surprise me if this year, if the weather is good, we hit 5,000. Hopefully the third time is the charm.”