The 2012 Monticello Wine Trail Festival

We just got back from a weekend in Charlottesville at the Monticello Wine Trail Festival. I was dubious about it from the beginning because the tickets cost $34 (that’s $29 plus a completely ridiculous $5 “service charge” for being able to pick up tickets at will call–exactly what “service” was provided?) for a four-hour outdoor festival. We paid $35 each for a whole day the massive Virginia Wine Expo, so I was bracing myself for disappointment.
The first indication that my pessimism was well-grounded came when we dutifully moved toward the venue entrance right at 2:00 and were greeted with a horrible long line of people stretching a few blocks down the road. However, the line had only grown because the eager crowd starting queuing up early: Once the gates were open, we got inside soon enough.
My second frustration was that they confiscated my bottle of water. It wasn’t a big deal: I drained it before they tossed it and the whole exchange was very civil. But it seems to me like good common sense that if you are going to have maybe a couple thousand people drinking alcohol outside on a very, very warm day that you don’t limit their access to water. Furthermore, the Virginia Wine Expo was indoors and water coolers were available at the end of every row.
Finally, this festival was overrun with college students and people who seemed more interesting in imbibing than enjoying wine. Even as we lined up for only our second tasting, we were trapped behind a group of girls chatting excitedly about how the sweet, chillable red they were swirling would make great sangria and in front of a group of guys saying that really, it would be more efficient if the wine were available in large barrels with taps so you could walk around and fill your glass at leisure without having to wait for the people ahead of you while they talked to the pourer. More than once, I was brushed aside as young and old people alike pushed their way to the front of the line to demand a swig of whatever variety the pourer was holding, only to disappear back into the crowd to down their wine like a shot of cheap vodka. We actually made friends with some women in front of us when they overheard me telling my boyfriend that people were behaving like zoo animals at feeding time.
I was hoping for this:

But instead, it felt like this:

From The Bobby D Show

Fortunately, drinking enough wine will make any bad situation better, so we didn’t feel like our $68 was wasted. We got to taste some offerings from vineyards we haven’t visited yet, like Sugarleaf and Delfosse, although most of the Central Virginia region vineyards are within driving distance from our home in the Shenandoah Valley and we’d already visited many of the other vineyards represented the festival. What’s most fun for us is talking to winemakers and pourers about their wines and vineyards, and many were friendly and happy to oblige us. We even spent a few minutes chatting to Richard Leahy, the author of Beyond Jefferson’s Vines: The Evolution of Quality Wine in Virginia, which has only been available for about a week now. He was there signing books and was happy to discuss the wine education opportunities that are available in Virginia.
My final judgment is that it might be a long time before I go to another wine festival. None of Virginia’s wineries are too far away from where we live and visiting wineries on the weekend (especially now, with everything so intensely green and lit up with all spring’s potential) is definitely relaxing, romantic, and pleasurable. Beyond that, a visit to a winery usually costs no more than $10 for a tasting, and if you pack a picnic and buy a bottle, you’re still only out maybe $40 for two people to spend a couple of hours admiring the vines. 
It’s frustrating to pay so much money to the organizers to watch drunk people toss back vino poured by the winemaker’s hand in the hopes that their name and their product will get recognized. If you are really interested in tasting a lot of Virginia wine and you don’t live here, a festival is a great way to get around and virtually visit as many wineries as possible in one day, with the qualification that you will be drunk before long and your perception of the wine–as well as your manners–may be impaired. 

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