“Wine is one of the most civilized things in the world and one of the most natural things of the world that has been brought to the greatest perfection, and it offers a greater range for enjoyment and appreciation than, possibly, any other purely sensory thing.”
― Ernest Hemingway
Everyone has that one tradition they do every year to kick off the holiday season. Maybe it’s a friendsgiving, family tree cutting, maybe a local holiday workshop or parade. The one tradition that has ALWAYS helped me jump into the holiday spirit is the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer and Food festival. It’s the perfect November event to get dressed up for, invite some friends, and spend a whole day enjoying the festival. I have been going for years, but this year I was offered a sneak peak into the inner workings of the event along with a small interview with Show Producer, Henri Boucher.
I started attending the festival 9 years ago with my dear friend Lindsay. Ours was a friendship initiated by my husband which blossomed over our love for good food & wine. This event naturally became the one of our MUST-DOs + we planned on going every year together. We knew it would be a night of exploring new wines, chatting with our favorite vendors, attending some educational seminars + demos, and quite simply the perfect opportunity to have fun + catch up. Unfortunately, my wine partner-in-crime moved away, so I have started bringing others into the experience with me. This year, I brought my good friend Tantzi (who took the pictures of the evening. Check out her work here) and our pal, Leah!
It’s so hard to believe that this incredible festival has been happening for 11 years! It is by far the largest premier tasting event in Michigan, and even the Midwest. You have a chance to try more than 1,500 wines, beers, ciders, and spirits from around the world, along with tastes from some of Grand Rapids’ finest + exquisite restaurants.
For some this may sound like a very intimidating experience, for others a connoisseur’s dream. If you have limited knowledge about this industry, do not fear, this is the best event for you. You can take your time by going to the seminars where they will educate you on several different topics. This year they had so many fun choices: Wine 101, Focus on Michigan Reds, Why and When to Splurge, The Power of Sour, and many many more.
Once fully educated, head to as many or little booths as you desire to experience different flavor profiles of wine + talk with the vendors. When you need to nibble, I love taking a break from walking around to watch some of the live demonstrations from the chefs. This year I spent some time on stage with Chef David Olsen from Live Fire Republic, and I was truly in my happy place. He taught us about how to make the perfect maple bourbon pork tenderloin with a parsnip purée + a delicious gastrique. Like what?? I’m beginning to make your mouth water, right?
If that isn’t enough to entice you to buy a festival ticket, then I suggest making a reservation for one of their many fine dining experiences. These are a one-hour multi-course meal that is paired with exceptional wine. This dining experience is definitely targeted towards the “wine connoisseur” but is open to all wanting to learn how to pair wine with a meals.
Enough wine yet? I didn’t think so! Not only does the festival carry hundreds of different wines, both local + international, they reserve one specific space where you can experience the Elite Collection, which includes hand selected bottles of wine that range anywhere from $50-350+. I may have tried Opus One...a 42ticket wine sample!!
Head to the Wine, Beer and Food Festival website to get a sneak peek into the many tasting sessions with complimentary samplings that were available this year. Click around to check out some of the workshops and food presentations held on the Meijer Stage. (CLICK HERE)
Enough about my thoughts, let’s hear from Henri Boucher, the Show Producer.
I'm very intrigued by origins of events + small businesses.
So I would love to hear where the idea came from for the first festival?
To start: this isn’t a small business…..it is 120,000 sq ft (larger than a football field) with 600 exhibitors, 1800 beverages, 20,000 plus people which makes it the largest such festival in the Midwest and maybe the country.Fourteen years ago when Rich MacKeigan asked me to create. Wine and Food Festival modeled after the Ottawa Canada festival I responded: I produce major Annual events: Boat Shows, Auto Shows, RV Shows, Home Shows, Sport Shows.......every week there is a small Wine or Food Event.....this would have to be the largest in the Midwest for me to tackle it..........he said: Yes, that is what we want.....I was cornered.
With the support of the largest Wine and Beer distributors in the state And eventually 25 of Grand Rapids' best restaurateurs, we launched this Festival that is unique in all of the United States.
What differentiates this festival from other wine + food festivals?
We made many decisions early on: we charge attendees with sample tickets of 50 cent denominations so the vineyards and breweries are incentivized to bring their best stuff and this event stays a "sampling event" not a drinking drunkfest.
We keep the varieties of beverages separate for people to sample categorically.
The food sampling is very special. This is an ultimate dining experience. Restaurants bring their best specialties for people to create a very special dining experience......don't have dinner before you attend or you will be very sorry.....consider booking a "pairing".... no one regrets this very special experience.
To close, I know that this festival has come & gone, but that doesn’t have to stop you from marking it in your calendar for next year. I would LOVE to see a more diverse group of people come to learn + appreciate the art of wine, beer, and spirits.
Cheers to the start of the holidays friends!
for fun share your favorite wines below in the comments!
xo - ray