It’s wine festival time in New Mexico! Celebrate this Labor Day weekend at the Viva Vino Harvest Wine Festival in Las Cruces at the Southern New Mexico State Fairgrounds, and in Albuquerque at Balloon Fiesta Park. Being both a consumer and a server at the wine festivals for over a decade, I have come to realize that most people fall into one of two types of attendees: Those there for the wine, and those there for the festival. Which one are you?
A person who attends for the wine :
I know a little something about wine.
I want to learn something new.
I’m open to trying something new.
I’m going to buy some bottles to take home.
I don’t want to have a hangover tomorrow.
A person who attends for the festival:
I think I know something about wine.
I’m going to try everything.
Whoa! I’m getting buzzed already.
I’m not buying any bottles today.
It’s a good thing I don’t have to go to work tomorrow.
And, of course, most people who attend will also enjoy the food trucks and eclectic collection of vendors
Lest you think I’m being a bit judgmental by profiling wine festival goers, let me assure you that I have fallen into both categories over the years. I’m not making generalizations about people just from what I’ve seen—and I’ve seen a lot! But, I’m speaking from experience based on what I’ve been—and…ew! I’m just going to leave that there.
So here is my 100% EXPERIENCED – BASED WINE FESTIVAL SURVIVAL GUIDE. I promise that if you follow this guide, you will get that maximum best experience possible from the wine festival. I can’t promise you’ll avoid a little hangover—I mean, it’s a wine festival—but I can increase your fun and minimize any negative after- effects.
DRINK A LOT OF WATER. I can’t stress enough how important this is…and I don’t just mean while you’re at the festival. In fact, go get a drink of water NOW to drink while you read the rest of this survival guide. You do NOT want to start the festival in a state of dehydration because you will not be able to rehydrate as fast as you dehydrate while you’re there. Start NOW drinking a half gallon or more of water everyday before you go to the festival and at least a quart of water before you leave your house to go. I get it that Johnny-on-the-spot isn’t the most pleasant way to relieve your bladder, but it’s better than getting dehydrated. Never be without a bottle of water while you’re at the festival. Every tent will have bottled water available for purchase.
MAKE A GAME PLAN. Your game plan depends on what you hope to accomplish. If the plan is to get drunk, you probably won’t read any further—but since you’re reading a wine blog, I’m guessing you really are looking for Wine Festival survival strategies. I like to make my game plan before I leave the house, but if you don’t know what to expect, then just make some rules for yourself based on this survival guide. If you missed Wine of Enchantment’s advice on visiting tasting rooms and judging wine, you can read them by clicking on the titles below. Not all of the advice applies to wine festivals, but some of it will be helpful. Don’t Wear White and Mind Your Manners
PACE YOURSELF. A wine festival pour is usually ½ an ounce of wine. While that may not seem like a lot, do the math. There will be approximately 20 wine tents at the Harvest Wine Festival. If you taste and swallow only ONE wine at each place—and, get real, that will NEVER happen– you have still consumed two standard glasses of wine. That is super reasonable, but heat, dehydration, and the combination of different wines is going to affect your system far more quickly than sipping a couple of glasses of wine at home. It is more likely that you are going to taste an average of 3 wines at each tent. If you swallow them, you have now consumed SIX glasses of wine and you probably killed your palate a couple of hours into the festival.
DUMPING IS ACCEPTABLE. Spit buckets are typically not available at a festival so, please don’t spit around people. But, there is absolutely nothing wrong with tasting a wine and then dumping it—even if you like it. Dumping doesn’t mean the wine is bad or you don’t like it. It means you are tasting wine, developing your palate, and learning about wine.
BE OPEN TO NEW THINGS. If you don’t like dry red wines, find out why. Be open to learning about dry reds, learning how to taste them, and considering the possibility of having a glass of dry red wine at home every now and then. I LOVE dry red wines, so I never drink them at a wine festival. I have expanded my palate over the years into a real appreciation for off-dry and medium sweet white and rosé wines. The wine festival is a perfect place to expand the palate and try new wines without the investment of purchasing a whole bottle that you’re not sure you’ll like. Part of my personal game plan is to only try a certain style of wine instead of running the gamut of available wines and confusing my palate. If I’m committed to only trying off-dry white wines, I’m less likely to have a negative reaction to the alcohol as quickly as I would tasting a plethora of styles.
ASK QUESTIONS. Questions are important to help you make informed decisions. What food pairs well with this wine? What is the alcohol content of this wine? Is anything blended with this varietal? What’s grapes make up this blend? Do you grow your own grapes? Is this aged in oak? Take notes on what you think about the wine and what you learn. If you like a particular wine, but you aren’t quite ready to purchase, make sure you note the name of the winery, the wine, and the cost so that you can return. It’s also a great idea to write down the physical location of wineries that interes you so that you can actually visit their tasting rooms and spend more time with their wines.
TAKE ADVANTAGE OF WINE STORAGE. A lot of people are hesitant to buy bottles too early in the day because they don’t want to carry them around. Almost all wine festivals today provide a storage service either for free or for a small fee or tips. When all of your wines are consolidated in one area, you can pick all of your purchases up in one place. If the festival doesn’t provide a storage service, most wineries will. The only downside is that you have to remember where all of your wines are being kept.
COME WITH A DESIGNATED DRIVER. Anytime you are drinking, you should have a designated driver. Many wine festivals have special ticket prices and perks for designated drivers. No matter how careful you are, at the end of the day you have consumed a fair amount of wine. Don’t take any chances. Don’t turn the festival into a fiasco because you thought you were “okay” to drive. The weather, exercise, more rapid dehydration, and mix of different kinds of wine will do a number on you that is almost impossible to plan for. Just KNOW that at the end of the day you will, at the very least, be buzzed. Arrange for transportation.
BE MINDFUL OF OTHERS. As the day progresses, the lines get longer. Please don’t try more than 3 wines at any tent and don’t spend a lot of time chit-chatting while you’re at the tasting table. Yes, you waited in line and now it’s your turn, but remember that the people behind you have also waited. While you’re being mindful of your fellow festival-goers, be mindful of your servers. PLEASE TIP THEM! Servers stand up all day. They rarely get a break to eat any food or even go to the bathroom. They are there so you can enjoy yourself. A lot of servers are lucky if they are getting minimum wage AND tips. Some servers are volunteers that are only working for tips. Without the servers, you would stand in longer lines and not have nearly as much fun as you would otherwise.
ENJOY EVERYTHING. Yes. It’s a WINE festival, but it’s also a wine FESTIVAL. There will be music and dancing, vendors of amazing products that you can’t buy in stores, and food! Lots and Lots of food! It’s always a good idea to shop the vendors and/or get a bite to eat after every couple of booths. The festivals are often arranged so that there is a vendor in between each wine tent. Don’t pass them up.
I always get excited with the anticipation of a wine festival. I love the energy and comradery between strangers brought together over wine. I am thrilled when I discover a new release from one of my (many) favorite wineries, and I enjoy talking to wine lovers all day. If you ever want to see the wine festival from a different perspective, consider getting your alcohol server’s license and working for a winery. They are always looking for help. The cost of a server’s license is the same as a single-day admission ticket to the festival.
What I love about New Mexico’s Harvest Wine Festival is that it kicks off what I consider to be the festival season. Autumn is the most popular time for wine festivals all around the country. After the one in Las Cruces, I’ll be headed to Seattle and then, in October, to the eastern shore of Maryland. If you have the time and finances to attend other wine festivals, GOOGLE is your best friend. It will help you find and plan a great wine trip.
I hope I see a lot of you at the Southern New Mexico State Fair Grounds on Labor Day weekend. I’ll be working in the St. Clair booth (#12). Come by and see me! And, as always, please comment or send me an email about any of your wine festival experiences.
Until next time…