|Vince Capano is a two time winner of the prestigious Quill and Tankard
writing award for humor from the North American Guild of Beer Writers.
Vince's column is now a regular feature of beernexus.com
Check back often for the next installment of
Vince's Adventures in Beerland
The Wine Festival by Vince Capano
Forget the Easter bunny, blooming flowers, and accelerated global warming. To
me spring signals the beginning of beer festival season (not to be confused with
beer season which is,needless to say, year around.) Soon the festival page on
BeerNexus will be packed with locales, close and far, that boast of an array of
beers to taste and ample port-a-johns to use. Each of these festivals, I'm sure,
has been carefully planned, providing the attending breweries with a tent and
table to dispense their treasured elixirs. Just perfect you might say. But is that
the only way to organize things? After visiting the Newark, DE wine festival the
answer is no.
By the way, that's not a misprint. I did say wine festival. Now before the
beer-only diehards in the reading audience consign me to an everlasting hell of
drinking Cheapo Estate Vintage Ripple for being an effete traitor to beer let me
state for the record that I did protest this assignment. Well, at least until my
editor explained that Newark was using a festival format far different from the
standard one we beer folk are accustomed to so there was something to be
learned. It was that insight, and certainly not the somewhat less than ambiguous
implications of her "where are you working tomorrow" comment, that convinced me
to accept the assignment. Besides, considering my former wine tasting
experience (Lost in a Strange Land - nexus archives) who better on the beernexus
staff to handle a wine story than me?
"Welcome to Taste Bud Euphoria in the Dining Capital of Delaware!" said the
headline in the festival program. The program then listed 23 participating pubs
and restaurants; each offering 3 to 5 different wines for tasting. Ah, but these
offerings weren't in some cordoned off area of barren blacktop with an anonymous
band playing totally ignored music to the side of the last tent. No, this festival
had a unique concept. Instead of having the beverages travel to the festival goer,
the Newark organizers have the festival goers travel to the beverages!
Don't worry, you don't need be a marathon runner to visit all 23 locations listed on
the program's map. Every site was either on, or very close to, the 3/4 mile long
center of Newark, Main Street. With so many stops packed closely together even
the most committed bar stool devotee could handle the leisurely walk along this
balloon decorated thoroughfare.
Being a logical person I started my tasting somewhat near the western end of
Main Street. Logical in this case means that's the area where I found a parking
spot. It proved to be a good choice as my first stop was right in front of me: a
place called Ali Baba. Ali Baba featured three authentic Moroccan wines .......but
not one of the 40 Thieves. The wines were a new taste experience for me as was
entering a Moroccan restaurant. Now I saw the win -win philosophy of the Newark
concept. The festival goer visits places he would normally just pass by and the
restaurant/bar can perhaps earn a future customer.
I discovered that each venue was doing exactly the same thing - placing a serving
table in part of their establishment and staffing it with a friendly pourer who was
only too happy to discuss the offerings. I may have slipped up a few times by
asking if the brewer was there but they were kind enough not to laugh to loudly.
At each stop you could order as many glasses of wine that you liked for only $2 a
pour. Now before you say that your tasting is free at a beer festival be aware
that, unlike beer fests, there was no "admission" charge to this one. Even more,
you get to keep the wine glass! Yes, beer festival fans, it was a real glass, not the
tiny plastic miniatures we too often see at our festivals. Want more for your
$2? A complimentary "glass carrying pouch" was provided. The only thing they
didn't think of was an old fashioned trolley gently moving up and down Main Street
to shorten an already short walk. Oh wait, they did that too!
My next stop was Home Grown Cafe which featured seven wines and six
champagnes. In a creative touch, Home Grown offered flights of 3 to 6 glasses in
addition to the $2 pours. It was impressive to see 6 glasses of quality bubbly
lined up in front of more than a few people. New Year's Eve in Newark was now
being celebrated on May 30!
I crossed the street to see what Grotto Pizza had to offer. Good move on my
part as they had, along with three other wines, a Gabbiano Sangiovese-Merlot that
was a standout, All right, so I didn't know what that was until the very
knowledgeable pourer explained it, but it was still good. And yes, the glass was
still included if you needed one. The other side of Grotto was hopping as there
was an energetic group at the main bar cheering loudly. I couldn't quite tell if
that was because of the NCAA Tournament game on TV or the $2 per 26 ounce
glass of beer special that Grotto was running. Don't get too excited, the special
was only for Bud and Coors Light.
Want some history with your festival? I did, so I next ventured to the Deer Park
Tavern, the drinking establishment frequented by Edgar Allen Poe. No ravens or
pendulums were on hand but they did have a nice selection of Renwood and Mafi
vintages. I really can't remember what they tasted like but I do recall having a
nice chat with the pourer. Seems he was a local liquor distributor. After seeing
the beernexus logo on my shirt he stopped with the wine chit-chat and told me he
all about the Leffee Braun and Stone IPA his company was bringing in. He
revealed that he too was a beer guy stuck by his boss at a wine festival. I guess
it only proves you can take the beer away from the festival but not the
I enjoyed my next stop at Klondkie Kate's but for some reason can't remember
why. Most likely that's because I was now deep into my mission of visiting each of
the venues and it was taking a toll. No not the wine, it's the stress of it all. And
you thought this job was easy. Being a professional, I bravely forged ahead and
sampled Kate's selection of wines from the Sterling Vineyards. If research
makes for a good article then this one will be Pulitzer worthy.
By the way, special kudos to the festival organizers for partnering with the
Delaware Designated Divers organization. For anyone who might have had a glass
to many this organization drives you and your car home without charge. A great
idea for all concerned.
I decided to next head one block off Main Street and visit the Courtyard Cafe.
It was the highlight of the festival. Up a flight of stairs, attached to a Courtyard
hotel, this bar had a feel of fun and energy that I've rarely seen. Maybe it was
due to the robust bartenders who had a smile and kind word for every individual
who offered up their glass. Even more likely, credit should go to the contagious
good will of the bar's manager who roamed the room, bottle in hand, to provide
even more unique wines. This guy should have been instantly made Mayor of
Newark. I take that back. The person who organized this festival all should get
the title, in perpetuity no less. Think of it - a festival that handled thousands of
people with no lines at any venue, no paying for stuff you don't want to drink, seats
and tables at each stop, knowledgeable servers, and real restrooms (hey, practical
stuff counts too.)
Oh, and if you're still not convinced that beer people and the Newark Wine
Festival are totally compatible I give you the case of Iron Hill Brewery, located
smack in the middle of Main Street. This GABF winning brewpub actually had six
wines available for the festival goer. Unfortunately I really can't comment on
them. When I stopped there I ordered a pint of their Wee Heavy and then one of
Hey, what did you expect, I work for BEERnexus.
Editor's Note - Newark will be
holding a beer festival in
July. Check back soon for
|The Wine Festival