I attended the Trade and Consumer tasting at the DC Intl. Wine and Food Festival yesterday, Saturday, February 14th, and I wanted to post some observations. First of all, the organizers of this event are an event planning company out of Boston – Resource Plus Shows and Events, and they started wine festivals with the Boston Wine Expo which began 18 years ago. When the Resource people came to Washington, D.C. 10 years ago, they had a track record with the Boston Wine Expo pretty much selling out every year at about 15,000 attendees over 2 days, but they had tried an Atlanta version that had failed. I offered TasteDC’s ticket selling and promotion services when they first came to DC and sold approximately 40% of their first year tickets which helped get the DC Expo quickly into success mode. TasteDC is no longer affiliated in any way with the DC event.
-Saturday is always a very crowded day and tends to be more of the “weekend drinkers” type. Although I noticed the crowding, I think the crowd has changed and has gotten to be more serious about wine and not quite as young and drunk as in the past. Having noted that, I left midway through the event, and things tend to get pretty ugly near the end of these events when rowdy partiers crash the tables and literally fall on the floor drunk and sick. The difference this year may have been that the date was on Valentine’s Day, and possibly people were on a bit better behavior, but that is very hard to say,
-A significant number of wines tasted were unrepresented in the local wholesale market and were looking for Mid-Atlantic distribution/representation. This is important – most of the wines I tasted are not available in Washington, D.C., MD, or VA to purchase and may never reach even the East Coast. As great as the variety of wines available to taste (something like 800), if you like a wine you often can’t purchase it in the local market,
-There is virtually no “food” at this event, and it should be taken out of the name of the Festival. I’ve been saying this for years – if you’re going to include “food” in the name, then you have to feed people essentially a meal – let’s say about 1,000 calories per person of “real” food – not crackers, not table samples from chocolate/cracker/olive oil/cheese companies, I mean REAL food like chicken, meat, pasta, etc..and you should have some chefs/restaurants JUST serving food samples. I use the Charleston Food and Wine Fest as an example – many local restaurants man the tables and serve serious grits and other southern low country food. You’re stuffd at the Charleston Fest, but you’re drunk and hungry at the DC Fest – what’s that all about?
-No wine seminars – they just disappeared! I haven’t been attending this Fest in a few years, but I remember lot’s of smaller seated seminars. This definitely adds to the educational component, but there was none of that this year,
-If you’re going to charge the Big Bucks for a VIP Room, then make it hospitable and don’t overcrowd..the Grand Cru room cost an ADDITIONAL $125 to the Grand Tasting ticket which was around $85, before discounting, and was so crowded, hot and uncomfortable, that it seemed like a rip-off! Food wise it wasn’t much better than the Grand tasting, but Igourmet.com did a very nice cheese tasting (if you could squeeze in!) and I was impressed by that. Some nice desserts as well, but no real food – again, where’s the Beef??
-The layout of this tasting has always been strange – the Ron Reagan Building space is not easily laid out for booths because there are 3 rooms with 2 entrances and a maze to get around the event. I always thought that there was very little thought taken into account about where wineries should be, for example Virginia wineries were pretty randomly spread out, but Maryland wineries had a cohesive group.
-Uneven representation of geographical regions – there was a very good Spanish representation of wines, decent French and Italian, California was not bad, but South Africa, New Zealand and South America were “spotty”. Maybe there are just too many wine regions of the world, but this event seems to focus on who’s willing to pay for booths, not so much what wines/countries would make a balanced event.
-No comment on the cooking/wine demonstrations – since you can barely get any food at these things and frankly since they’re sort of in the middle of the Grand Tasting, it just seems like a bunch of noise. I think Dave McIntyre was wearing a nice tie or something, and Martin Yan seemed to be having a good time, one never knows..
Conclusion: The DC Wine and Food Expo has become a “generic” wine and food festival with limited regionality and adds very little to the wine tasting “scene” in Washington, D.C. Call me biased – I totally am, I run www.tastedc.com full-time and I’m honest about that – but what do these “mega” events add to the food and wine scene? Couldn’t more be done – for example, couldn’t there be more “real” food representation, how about some of the regional cheese associations from France and Italy, even the U.S.? Even though the wine seminars may be unprofitable, they add panache and credibility to this event, and I think they’re a necessity. And seriously, local is the mantra in food and wine, the Festival needs to showcase local food and wine producers, they are the stars that people cherish. Maybe even have a tiny farmer’s market with some local cheeses/yogurt/pies/jellies, etc. And finally – what is wine without food? Why is so much energy put into wine festivals/tastings without the food component? Yes, there were cooking demonstrations, but until you try a blue cheese with a Port, or Pad Thai with a Riesling. In an upscale well-educated market like Washington, D.C., people expect more and they should have it..
Charlie “I Drink On the Job” Adler