Thursday, September 20, 2007

Are "wine festivals" a ripoff?

The Chicago area recently saw a flurry of wine festivals. I didn't go to any of them. I was put off by mediocre lists of wines, a high perceived price tag, and being limited to only sampling a few wines. I didn't want to post about my assumptions, because I figured it would be unfair to the event organizers. However, I did get some reports from people at the event, and they mostly confirmed my suspicions. Below you'll see why I decided not to attend these festivals. Remember that I didn't attend, and all my info is second hand, so take my thoughts with a grain of salt.

Here is the basic pitch for the biggest one, the Windy City Wine Festival. On the north end of Grant Park, you get a wine event set up a lot like the Taste of Chicago. There are several vendors each with a table of wines. You buy tickets ($20 for 10 tickets). Each ticket is good for a 1 oz. pour. Note:the pourers are supposed to give you 1 oz., but they are pretty generous about giving a little more. There are food stalls, cooking demonstrations, and some music. On the surface, all that sounds like a pretty good deal.

Here's where the rub is. I mentioned that I was put off by the lack of interesting wines. Basically every single wine at the festival is a mass market grocery store wine. I'm not saying they are bad wines, but there is nothing unique or distinguishing about any of them. Almost every one of them is produced by an international conglomerate and has few notable characteristics save for the label. So if you are like me, and you're looking for something new and interesting, you aren't going to find it.

In addition, most of these wines come in with a pricetag around $10. I'm not saying $10 is a bad pricepoint, I've had phenomenal wines (not just phenomenal values) for $10. What I'm saying is that if I paid $20 to go to your festival, and you let me try 1 oz, of 10 $10 wines, you ripped me off. Sure some of that ticket price went to a band, cooking demos, and whatever else, but thats hardly the point. The average festival goer is there for the wine.

Finally, the fact that I can only try 10 wines is silly. This is a tough one. There is a valid argument that letting attendees drink all the wine they want is irresponsible and even dangerous. I agree, and I'm not suggesting that the festival should over serve anyone. Limiting a drinker to 10 samples though, is the true ripoff. Maybe I would be more accepting of 20 tickets for $20, I don't know. Really I feel like if you are going to have an event like this, everything should be available to taste. If there are 20 wines I'm interested in trying, I should feel free to try them all. The point of an event like this is to discover new wines. Being able to try more wine is to the advantage of the person tasting, and the distributors pouring. The more I try, the more likely I will like something and buy a bottle (or 12). I just don't think a limit on tastes makes sense.

If you went to one of these festivals, or maybe even organized or worked one, I'd love to hear your thoughts. Did you enjoy it? What would you like to see changed?

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