Saturday, June 1, 2013

Vintage Virginia Wine Festival (2013 Installment)

In previous years, going to the Vintage Virginia Wine Festival has been a fun way to spend a weekend afternoon with friends. It's always had its down points (lack of shade, long lines for tastings, chaos at the wine-pickup and middling food). However, all of those were at least bearable.

This year's installment? Not so much. And, it started at the opening gates and pretty much continued throughout the day.

In previous years, there were two entrances for getting in. We parked midway between the two usual entrances - slightly closer to the one. We saw the line at the closer one and decided to walk to one we'd used in prior years. When we got there, we found "vendors only" (and similar) signs. We asked if we could still get in there (since they had the usual table full of sampling-glasses) but were informed that there was only one gate usable by patrons this year. So, we made the long trudge back to the other gate. It turns out the reason there was such a line, this year, was that there was only the one patron-gate. Two, perfectly serviceable entrances, but they were only allowing patrons in by way of the one.


Even better? If you'd bought (and brought) your ticket ahead of time, the line to get your ticket taken was much longer than either the line to buy tickets or the will-call line. So much for being smart and getting the tickets sorted out ahead of time.


In previous years, the place was organized with with trinket and other sellers arrayed along the fence at the top of the hill, interspersed with food and beverage sellers. They also had what was, essentially, an outdoor food-court. Granted, the food that was sold was middling, county fair style and quality food - nothing to write home about. That said, these food-vendors knew how to move a large number of people through their lines, sold food at a surprisingly reasonable price for what's essentially a captive audience and they gave you more than just a few morsels for the price paid.

I guess this year they were trying to respond to prior years' attendees complaining about the quality of the food. This year, they decided, "lets bring in chefs and 'gourmet' food trucks". While this would have been a great way to supplement the prior years' offerings, they opted to have the food trucks completely supplant the prior years' food sellers. Unfortunately, this caused a number of problems.

At this venue, there's a paucity of shady spots. Given that most years, the weekend they hold the event tends somehow always seems to manage to be both sunnier and warmer than normal for the time of year, the lack of shade really sucks. That said, there was at least some shade available to take refuge in. This year, all of the shady spots were occupied by food trucks. In prior years, these areas had either had cooling tents in them or trinket-sellers who didn't object to you spending time under their tents, even if you didn't actually end up buying anything. All of those sellers were now pushed to the inner area of the field and, apparently, their tend-sizes restricted.

The food trucks were also troublesome from the perspective of service pace. The prior years' "slop-slingers", while pushing middling food, pushed it quickly. If they were operating a 15 foot wide food-stand, they were servicing four to five lines in that space. This year, the food trucks each hogged up 15 feet of shade yet could each service only one line. And, because of how the food trucks operate, that one line they were able to service moved much slower than any one line previously serviced by the slop-slingers. To say that the lines were long and slow would be an exceedingly charitable characterization.

Now, don't get me wrong, lines by themselves aren't an inherently evil thing. If what you get at the end is of sufficient value - tasty, adequately filling, etc. - then it can be a worthwhile tradeoff of the time spent. However, when you're getting gouged for tiny portions of middling food and have to wait in the scorching sun and humid heat for a half hour or more, it's not a good value. It's rage-inducing.

Further, when the food trucks have displaced the cooling tents and reduced the number of places for getting water, particularly in a place where people are consuming a dehydrating substance like alcohol, it's a recipe for fainting spells or worse. Saw the medical assistance golf carts go by on more than a few occasions. Sadly, with the huge lines caused by the slowness of the food trucks' service, those medical assistance carts had a tough time getting to their assistance-targets on a timely basis.

And, whose brilliant idea was it to have a cupcake truck? Really: you want to try to serve up heavy, overly-sweet baked goods in northern Virginia heat? The market definitely spoke on that one: I didn't observe a single person attempting to buy a cupcake. The only people I saw were those who stopped to see if they had any water for sale (they didn't). Otherwise, the cupcake truck sat there completely unvisited (yet still soaking up 15 feet of space that could have been used for sitting down or seeking refuge from the sun).

About the only good part of the food trucks? With everyone stuck in line waiting for food and water (the food trucks displaced prior years' beverage sellers, too), the lines for the wine sellers were much shorter this year than in prior years.

Unfortunately, the value of the shorter lines was greatly reduced by the size of this year's pours. This year's pours seemed to be maybe half the size of prior years' pours.

While this may be a positive from the standpoint of making it harder for people to get blind-drunk, it also makes it difficult to actually tell "do I like this wine enough to buy a bottle of it". And, to be honest, the reason I go to wine-tasting events is to see what wines I'd like to buy and to take home a case (or so). I'm not there to get smashed, I'm there to find stuff I want to buy. However, when you're pours are so small I can barely fully wet my tongue with it, let alone swish it around in my mouth to fully experience its flavors and textures, it's not going to make me want to buy. And saying to me, "this one has a really great mouth fill" after having poured me something that doesn't allow me to experience that feel makes me want to just punch you in the goddamned throat.

Needless to say, the usual case-plus that we've bought in previous years wasn't repeated this year. The folks we were with also bought radically less. Prior years, one of our complaints was the wait to pick up the wine we'd bought inside. Judging by the nearly non-existent lines at the wine-pickup area near the venue's exit, it wasn't just our party that was buying considerably less. If I were one of the wine-sellers, I'd be pissed at this year's changes.

I'm pretty sure that 2013's incarnation of Vintage Virginia will have seen the end of our attendance at these events.