The growth (and popularity) of vineyards and wineries in the Commonwealth has spurred a growth in festivals all over the state, in the big cities and small towns. The biggest ones, like Vintage Virginia (held in the Bull Run area off I-66 each spring and fall) have been around for decades, when Virginia only boasted about 15 wineries. Now the festival has grown into an amusement park for big kids, although that doesn't stop the grown ups from a) bringing their toddlers and b) acting like little kids.
Should you decide to visit a festival in the state this year, there are some pros and cons. In a nutshell, true wine buffs would be better off visiting the wineries themselves. The festivals, especially the large ones, seem to bring out the worst (in rudeness and narcissism) in people. The smaller ones, like the one at Mt. Vernon, are superior but have their own drawbacks (smaller festivals usually mean longer waits at the winery tents).
We've listed both the Pros and Cons, to allow you to make an educated decision.
Wine Festival Pros:
1. Winery Variety
Many Virginia wineries, even some smaller ones (like Democracy Vineyards, which doesn't have a public tasting room yet, and Gabriele Rausse Winery, which has some of the best wine in the state but is not open to the general public), show up at the festivals that dot the state throughout the year. You'll get to try wines that even the diehard VAVINO heads like the blogmasters haven't tried. If you do your research on the wineries attending a particular festival ahead of time, you can avoid the bigger, more commercial wineries (which usually have the big tents near the entrance and attract the "we're just here to get blitzed" crowd), and head straight for the smaller spots.
2. Great for Groups
Planning a big outing with a group of friends or family members? Festivals are a great idea. But we suggest having a designated driver, or hiring a limo.
Wine Festival Cons:
1. The Amateurs
You know these types. The people (males tend to be more obnoxious and "Alpha-like" than females) who are at a festival to get as drunk as they can, who don't care about a winery or their product, who will cut in line, and in general would be better off at a sports bar. And then there are the folks who are too impatient to wait in line for a tasting and shove you, while holding their glass over your head. And then you have the types who talk about nothing with the pourers, holding up the line, and try to get extra tastings....The wine festivals bring these folks out in droves.
2. The Weather
Rain or shine, wind or sticky humidity---wine festivals are planned years in advance, and unless the festival is very small, the show goes on, in any weather. The blogmasters have been to festivals in soaking rain, and contrary to the rumors, the rain does not keep others away. The lines may be shorter, but the grounds will still be crowded. Indoor, climate-controlled festivals are the way to go.
Keeping the books balanced, we offer two pros and two cons. If you must do a festival, we suggest finding a climate-controlled one (there is a good one in the Richmond Convention Center each winter that is our favorite in the state), and don't even think about attempting to buy quantity at these festivals. The wineries are set up to move wine at the festivals, but buying multiple bottles (one or two is okay) at a festival is a hassle.
In short, we suggest visiting a winery on a festival day.