Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival in Blowing Rock, NC

A tent has many meanings. An inert word of sorts there is nothing lilting or romantic about its terse, quick pronunciation. It may be a boring word, but what happens under a tent is usually worth telling about.

I have many fond memories of being in tents. Girl Scout weekends, circus performances, and backyard forts to name a few. If you’re like me, all of the memories like this are vivid and fond, evoking thoughts of celebration, rites of passage, or time with friends and loved ones.

A new kind of tent memory is emerging for me and now becomes a fitting antidote for my adult yearning to return to those celebrations of youth. It all started with the Blue Ridge Wine Festival’s Grand Tasting in Blowing Rock last Saturday the 18th of April. Suspended above hundreds of thirsty oenophiles, the big, white billows of canvas and rope that made up the grand tasting tent, housed the proverbial grape escape of the mountains - a monument to flavor, friendship and opportunity.

I could see the tent as we walked up the main street, watching as people jostled through the crowd to buy a ticket and begin sipping. Once inside, the experience transformed each visitor. Large, purple and green balloons of all sized were affixed to the posts to resemble robust clusters of chardonnay, pinot noir and cabernet grapes. Booths displaying trinkets, books, hats and shirts were nestled between dozens of winery displays large and small, local and international. Wine flowed from the bottles of hundreds of varietals. Food and appetizers were a-plenty with everything from pate, to mini-gourmet cheeseburgers and blue cheese to carrot cake to choose from.

While making the rounds with my logo-etched glass I stopped and visited with many of the winemakers, tasting some familiar North Carolina favorites like the inventive Hanover Park, the young but stunning wines of Stony Creek, the skilled winemaking flavors of Childress Vineyards, and the newly branded and innovative wines at Round Peak. I became a raving fan of Semler Winery in Malibu, an avid admirer of Zuccardi Wines’ Malbec of Argentina, wowed and impressed by the Saddlerock Chardonnay from California. All of which covered my palette with memories I will talk of for weeks.

One of the most exciting parts of the Festival was the mood of the crowd and their eagerness to socialize and learn about their fellow tasters. Since most of us were standing tight as sardines as we waited for each new pour, it was impossible to avoid becoming friends with the person standing next to you. We created our own little sub-cults, gathering around specific kiosks for extra sips of our favorite port or a sparkling white. We clinked glasses, exchanged emails and shared our deepest secrets of disastrous marriages, risky career moves, religious and political opinions, and even recent shoe bargains. In the end, we were all meant to find each other as we huddled under this modern teepee; destined to find new flavors and new friends. It was a perfect entrée to summer in the mountains.

Maybe, as a child, you held your breath as you watched the man on the high wire, hoping the circus wouldn’t end. For me, when the Festival ended, I exited this tent clutching the handle of a wine tote, blue stains on my teeth, and laughter in my heart.

For more information about this annual event, and all of the activities during this 4 day long celebration, log on to BlueRidgeWineFestival.com or NCWine.com.

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