[box size=”large” border=”full”]Why it’s awesome: Fenn Valley Wine Festival is a celebration of some of Michigan’s best wine, set in the beautiful vineyards of Fennville, Michigan.[/box]
According to Greek mythology, Dionysus was the god of the grape harvest, wine/wine making, and of ritual madness and ecstasy. Or, in laymen’s terms, Dionysus was the god of good times. If this were indeed the truth, it would be safe to say that Dionysus was smiling over Fennville, Michigan last Saturday. That is where the Fenn Valley Wine Festival took place, providing plenty of wine and good times: Dionysus’ dream come true.
The twentieth annual Fenn Valley Wine Festival was held on June 25th in the beautiful vineyards of Fenn Valley, located in the midst of the rural backdrop of Fennville. The first incarnation of the festival began twenty years ago as an open house with the ambition of “[making] the winery a destination, not just a stop someone made on their way going somewhere,” said Fenn Valley’s owner, Doug Welsch. Initially consisting of 202 patrons gathering in the wine cellar and eating brats grilled by the winery’s staff, the festival quickly gained steam. This year, twenty years after its modest beginnings, Fenn Valley played host to a record turn out as 1,750 wine lovers flocked to Fennville.
The event now takes place entirely outdoors, as it has for the last three years, allowing attendees to spread out and enjoy the natural beauty of the landscape. While the logistics of the festival have changed in order to accommodate the influx of new patrons, Fenn Valley’s delicious wines remain the focal point of the festivities. A number of wines were available to the public, including dry, sweet, whites, reds, and everything in between. Even the pickiest of wine connoisseurs were sure to be pleased.
Admission to the festival grounds included a Fenn Valley wine glass, six free ½ ounce wine samples, and two tickets, which could be used toward the purchase of food or additional wine. Wine tickets could also be purchased for one dollar each, allowing even the most seasoned wine veteran to experience all that Fenn Valley has to offer. Wine could be purchased in three-ounce portions for two tickets, while six- ounce portions were served for four tickets.
After the first year, Fenn Valley decided to hire a band to play at each year’s festival. This year Holland based acoustic trio “The Trace” provided the entertainment, playing a variety of music including a number of cover songs made popular in previous generations. The three band members also interacted with the crowd, expressing their appreciation to be playing and also their shared love of wine. Their acoustic tunes provided a soothing soundtrack for the rest of the festivities while not overpowering the socializing masses.
Patrons took part in a number of leisure activities, all of which included plenty of wine. There were many people lounging in the grass near the stage, with a bottle of wine by their side. Others preferred the shade of the concessions tent where they were eating from one of the local vendors while, of course, sharing bottles of wine. For the more adventurous, there were wagon rides, which brought them out to the vineyard where they could sample even more wine. Wine was also for sale by the bottle to take home, resulting in attendees leaving with several cardboard boxes full of bottles of wine.
The record turnout, while obviously a blessing, also provided its challenges as the food vendors ran out of food long before the festival ended. “We were teetering on the edge of not being able to handle the crowds,” Welsch said. “We were stretched to the max.” In fact, at least two attendees served as impromptu volunteers as the event wasn’t prepared to handle so many guests.
Though there are a variety of vineyards throughout the state of Michigan, one thing that sets Fenn Valley apart is their emphasis on customer education. “Whether it is in the tasting room where we try to help the customer learn about the wines that they are tasting, or on one of our vineyard or winery tasting tours where we demonstrate how things that we do in the vineyard or in the cellar inpact the style and the quality of the wine,” said Welsch. “Educating the customer is what it is all about.”
Since Fenn Valley’s inception in 1973, this educational emphasis is shown not only through the winery tours which occur year round on weekends, but also through the festival itself. Welsch provides yearly demonstrations in an attempt to education the festival’s attendees about various aspects of wine. This year the focus was on teaching the festival goers what the word “reserve” means in regards to a bottle of wine.
So, whether you are interested in learning more about wine or are just looking for a good time in a beautiful setting, the Fenn Valley Wine Festival is for you. And if you are unable to be around for the festival itself, mosey on over for a tour and enjoy some of the best wine that Michigan has to offer. Plus, it is an educational experience, so there is no shame in drinking wine in the afternoon. It’s all in the name of learning! ~Chad Cramblet, Regional Director
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