Things to Do in Fort Wayne and Beyond

Sip some wine at Headwaters with safety in mind

Festival is still on, but now with protocols


Steve Penhollow

Whatzup Features Writer

Published September 30, 2020

Nichole Thomas may have come up with an entirely new COVID-19 safety protocol.

“We are going to perfect the sipping-in-line-while-wearing-a-mask maneuver,” she said in a phone interview with Whatzup.

OK, that’s not so much a safety protocol as it is a safe satisfaction protocol.

Sipping with Safety

Knowing how to safely sip while waiting in line is a valuable skill to have in any number of contexts these days, but it is especially relevant when you are at wine festivals.

Wine festivals have been about as common in Indiana this year as lemur sightings, but Thomas’ Michiana Wine Festival is going ahead as planned.

Well, maybe not quite “as planned.” It was postponed from April to October and a few pandemic-related constraints that haven’t constrained the four-year-old festival in the past will be constraining it this time around.

Still, it’s one of the few festivals to grace usually festival-packed Headwaters Park this year. It will happen on Saturday, Oct. 10.

The Michiana Wine Festival has grown quite a bit since it debuted in spring of 2017.

The first year, there were 1,500 attendees, Thomas said.

“We have since gone as high as 4,000,” she said.

This year, the festival will more closely resemble its inaugural incarnation.

“There is not a hard and fast (attendance) number that we’re limited to,” Thomas said. “But I would say it will be very similar to that first festival: in the 1,000 to 1,500 range.”

Because of the loose cap on attendance, Thomas and her fellow organizers decided to limit the number of participating wineries as well.

“As an attendee, you may be thinking, ‘Why are you limiting the wineries?’” she said. “Well, we want it to be profitable for the wineries. And if there are 21 or 22 wineries and only a thousand to fifteen hundred people, that’s not really a good day for them.”

Smaller but still fruitful

Thomas is hoping to be able to host ten wineries.

“We’re still waiting for some wineries to get back to us and let us know if they’re even available on the 10th,” she said.

Wineries confirmed at the time of Whatzup’s interview with Thomas were Fruitshine Winery of Monticello, Rettig Hill Winery of Osgood, Huckleberry Hill Winery of Bloomfield, Byler Lane Winery of Auburn, Windzerwald Winery of Perry County, Ertel Cellars of Batesville, Harmony Winery of Knightstown, and Ash & Elm Cider Company of Indianapolis.

“That one’s a little different,” Thomas said of Ash & Elm. “They do hard ciders. They bring some wine-type products and they bring their ciders. The guys tend to like Ash & Elm because it offers them more of what they’re used to.”

Fruitshine is apparently worth the price of admission all by itself.

“There are people, and I am not kidding you about this, who will buy a ticket just to go to Fruitshine,” Thomas said. “They will buy a ticket, come to Fruitshine, get their things, stock up, and then leave.”

One of the lures of Fruitshine is that it uses no preservatives or sulfites in its wines.

Food trucks scheduled to be at the fest include One Love Jamaican Cuisine, Affiné, Rico Suave Mexican Cuisine, Locavore, Who Cut the Cheese, Flora and Lily’s Mexican Kitchen, and Wicked Good Cupcakes.

The festival will be more spread out than usual as an encouragement to social distancing. The wineries and craft vendors will be under the Lincoln Financial Pavilion with the food trucks and a live music stage northwest of the pavilion near the fountain.

Better get your tickets early

Some things about the festival haven’t changed at all.

The $30 admission price still gets you a branded wine glass. That is what you use to sample wines.

“We’ve always done it that way,” Thomas said. “I love that because you are only touching your own cup.”

The festival’s “four favorite musicians” are set to return.

“They are Hubie Ashcraft, Adam Strack, Jon Durnell, and Sunny Taylor,” Thomas said. “They have played in a rotation at our festival since it started. And we just love them. People just love them. They are always good crowd pleasers. And they love to be there.”

There is still a 5K on the night before the fest, although it will be limited to 130 participants, Thomas said.

The finish line is where the finish line of every local race should be: Rudy’s Wine and Cigar Shop.

Most festival organizers have chosen cancellation over postponement in 2020, but Thomas and the other Michiana Wine Festival founders felt it was important to try to make their festival happen safely as a way of returning to some semblance of normalcy.

“We’re all trying to navigate a new normal,” Thomas said. “My partners and I sat down and said, ‘If we’re going to navigate a new normal, we don’t want it to be a new normal that doesn’t have live events.’”

The paucity of events in 2020 has led to increased interest in the few festivals and concerts that have gone on as scheduled.

Terry Doran’s RiverDrums event at Promenade Park in mid-September had much higher attendance than it has had in previous years.

Given Fort Wayne’s residents’ love of deciding at the last minute how they want to spend their impending free time, Thomas said she is prepared to cut off ticket sales when the Michiana Wine Festival reaches a certain capacity.

She said she doesn’t have a specific number in mind, but she will know that threshold when she sees it.

If you intend to attend, it might be a good idea to purchase tickets early.

And be sure to practice Thomas’ sipping-in-line-while-wearing-a-mask maneuver.

“We tried it at a meeting the other night,” Thomas said. “We got our masks on, we had our wine in our hands, we pulled the masks down, we sipped the wine, we put the masks back up.”

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