The blogmasters have (more or less) given up on the festival circuit. Wine festivals, especially the ones in Northern Virginia, are great for large gatherings (provided there is a designated driver in the gathering), but the crowds can get obnoxious. If you've been to an outdoor wine festival in the state, you know the drill: People taking their time tasting, asking silly questions in the hopes of getting extra tastings and paying no mind to their holding up of the line; people behind you pushing you forward and holding their glasses in front of your face; the inability to ask serious questions about the wine or winery to those pouring (most pourers are volunteers anyway who know very little about the wine or winery).
Apparently many wineries in the Commonwealth feel the same way about festivals. A few winery owners we've talked to have also pretty much given up on the festival circuit. It's a good way to sell a lot of wine, and some very small wineries that may not have open tasting rooms move some product during the festivals. But many festivals (according to our discussions with a few winery owners) are poorly planned, have soft enforcement of "intoxicated in public" laws (which has led to violence according to one winery owner), and if it rains or is unbearably hot outside, the festival goes on (imagine tasting during a constant downpour, or during 100 degree heat--the blogmasters have been to festivals under both scenarios and they're not much fun).
But there is one exception to the "festivals by in large suck" philosophy of the blogmasters: The Virginia Wine Expo. A little less than a month away, this is a wine festival which even wineries that actively shun other festivals in the state attend. 2013 marks the 6th year of the Virginia Wine Expo. It's a big party.
There are numerous reasons why this festival is light years ahead from the others:
1. Climate control. The festival occurs at the end of February, which is not ideal outdoor time for Virginia. Having the festival indoors means the cold, rain, sleet, snow, or rare derecho, can't stop it (as long as the power stays on....)
2. Most wineries. You'll see wineries here from every corner of the state, versus just the usual festival suspects.
3. Best atmosphere. Being located in the center of the state, the people who attend this festival are serious about wine and the Virginia winery scene. For the other festivals, especially the ones in Northern Virginia, many people just go to get drunk, and could care less about the wine or wineries. We've read comments on Yelp and other review sites of Virginia wine festivals where the writers even confess they think "Virginia wine sucks, but [the festival] is a great cheap way to get completely trashed."
4. Downtown Richmond. If you shell out the dough for a room at one of the downtown hotels, you can walk to the Convention Center, which means no DUI concerns. And after a day of tasting all you can taste and learning about the wines, there are several great restaurants in walking distance.
5. More than "just a festival." This is a week-long conference: February 19-24. Many Virginia winery and vineyard owners attend all week. There are seminars on the weekend as well as the more typical "walk around tastings." If you're in the meeting planning business, you know what it takes to pull such a week long event off. No poor planning here.
We hope to see you there. Some helpful links below:
Click here for general information on the Virginia Wine Expo.
Click here for a list of the wineries.
Click here for the events list and ticket buying module.
Click here for hotel deals.