This past weekend marks the end of the 2020 CHS Wine & Food Festival. I am already looking forward to 2021, but before I get there, I want to share my thoughts about this year’s experience. And when I say experience, I mean, at the Culinary Village only, as I do not attend any of the formal tastings, seminars or lunches or dinners*.
CHS Wine & Food – Culinary Village – Friday
Tickets for the CHS Wine & Food Festival go on sale sometime in August of the previous year. Tickets for any of the most popular events sell out quickly, and so you must act fast. This includes all three days of the Culinary Village. The ticket price for this five-hour tasting event is $135.00 per person. It is the best deal of the entire weekend. If you are a local resident and wish to attend on Sunday, you can save $40.00 off the admission price.
In the past, we always attended on Sunday, but over the years noticed a rising number of empty tasting booths on Sundays. Why? Because the wineries allocate a set amount of wine for the event, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. I can’t blame them for leaving since there is nothing to pour, but as an attendee, I was feeling cheated. In 2019, it was so bad that we decided to mix it up and attend on Friday in 2020 to see if there was any difference in the number of vendors. Not only were there no empty tasting stalls on Friday, but the wineries had more variety to taste as well. I am so glad we changed days. And we will do so next year as well.
So much to taste so little time
It should be noted that the Culinary Village has a variety of offerings. But to be honest, I can not speak to anything outside of The Corkyard and its perimeter, as we ran out of time and could not explore the other areas. Even then, we primarily sampled just the white and rosé offerings. We intended to do those first and then come back and taste the reds but also ran out of time. I think we sampled two red wines. While we could have hurried along to get to all the wines, but I can’t imagine how drunk I would have been if we had done that. And that would not have been fun or worth the experience.
Fortunately, I am not much of a beer or hard liquor drinker, so those quadrants were of little interest to me other than for the food offerings. In all the years, I have never made it to The Patio because I am not looking at buying a new Toyota or whatever brand of car is a sponsor that year. I would have liked to explore the Artisan Market, but as I said, we ran out of time. And the Main Stage? Honestly, since my focus was on The Corkyard, I have no idea what happens there either.
CHS Wine & Food – 2020 Highlights
Rías Baixas Wines
As we walked into The Corkyard, I saw and made a beeline to the Rías Baixas Wines tasting booth. I was hoping to see my friend Stefanie Schwalb from the PR company that represents the Rías Baixas Wine Association here in the USA. Instead, I met a new Stephanie who also works at Gregory & Vine as we sampled the seven Albariño wines from seven different producers. They were all as delicious as expected but also uniquely different. Some were crisp and light with a balance of fruit and mineral. Others had some weight and texture to them from spending time on the lees. Rías Baixas is on the northern Atlantic coast of Spain, just north of Portugal. That clean, salty air also shines through in some of these examples. If you have never tried the Albariño varietal of white wine, you really should.
Red Car Wine Co.
I have been a fan of Red Car Rosé of Pinot Noir since I first had it at the El Dorado Hotel on Sonoma Square back in 2017. So I was thrilled to see them in the Village this year. Brady Moran, Direct Sales Manager, and his wife Carly worked the show, and it was a pleasure to talk with them about Red Car Wine Co.
Of course, the rosé was our first sip upon finding them at the festival. I love this rosé and will pick up a bottle generally whenever I see it. Gary likes more of an acid punch and more minerality in his rosé, so this bottle is all mine. It retails for $28.00, but I imagine it is on sale at Bottles since they are the Festival retailer.
We also tasted the Chardonnay, which was delicious. Expect it to be lightly oaked with balanced acidity and fruit. Since we were only tasting whites and rosés, we never made it back to try the two Pinot Noir wines they were pouring. I have not seen the Chardonnay or the two Pinots in any of the retail stores I shop, but I will definitely look for them the next time I am out shopping.
New Friends and Old Friends
CHS Wine & Food – Wine Finds
CHS Wine & Food – Food Find
Constructive Criticism for the CHS Wine & Food Team
Gary and I truly enjoy this event, and I am sure we will be back next year. That said, I wanted to offer some of what I hope is taken as constructive criticism as an attendee for the past several years.
I want to enjoy every minute of the Village without getting hammered, but the current design and plan for the Village make that a monumental challenge. My first three ideas below address that issue.
Now, I get that this is a social event about tasting wine, beer, and food. As you say it on your website, “an all-inclusive daily ticket guarantees five hours of tasting, sipping, chef demos, live music, retail therapy, and more.” All that is true, but at the end of the day, there are hundreds if not thousands of tipsy to down-right drunk attendees in Marion Square. Some of whom that was their intention (with which I have no problem) and others, it may have just happened for reasons listed below. Yes, personal restraint and knowing your limits is each of our responsibility. But two minor changes and food that is more than a taste could help immensely.
The Pour Plus;
To Dump or Not to Dump, That is the Question;
Since you can’t easily Spit
At first, I asked for one ounce pours instead of the recommended two ounces (Two ounces is the suggested pour by the festival according to vendors with whom I spoke.) One can always ask for another sip if you wanted. At the first vendor alone, by doing so, I reduced my consumption by seven ounces. That is almost a glass and a half. I have no problem with a two-ounce pour, as this is where personal responsibility is key. I just bring this up because it is part of the “dump and spit” equation.
Yes, there are 5-gallon buckets placed on the ground between the vendors so that you can dump your glass if you do not like it or want it all. You may not notice these unless you look down or are told about them. Signage would be an improvement given the crowds that gather around a vendor, making them hard to see.
Where do you spit, if you want to taste but not swallow? Again, I get it that as a social event, most folks would not think of spitting. That is not why they are there, but there should be a way to do it gracefully without trying to hit a 5-gallon bucket on the ground surrounded by feet with hundred dollar shoes.
Water – Where, Oh, where could it be?
This year, I could not find water. I know it was there because I saw folks with it, but I never found any of the 55-gallon drums filled with bottles of water. There is no signage, and its placement was not visible. In years past, it was much easier to find. Staying hydrated is important to me and did not happen this year. Please, please please make water more obvious. There could have been tons of water, but it seemed hidden from view. Dehydration ensued.
Food – Please, sir, can I have some more…
Trust me; I get that the Village is a place for sampling. But five hours is a LONG time and it is impossible to get enough food when it is one bite at a time. I always eat a big brunch before I get there to have a full belly to soak up the alcohol but that is not enough over such a long period.
Over five hours I ate the following:
- 2 sample bites of a white fish in a sauce that I took at the same time so I did not have to stand in line again
- 1 sample bite of cake
- 1 fried fish on a Kings Hawaiian bun
They were all delicious but not enough.
Expand to add a Food Truck Area or Pop up Restaurant
Yes, I could leave the Village to get something more substantial nearby, but that seems counter-intuitive when you are at a food event. I don’t care how you do it but bring in food that comes in more substantial portions. Perhaps a food truck gathering area with trucks from throughout the region. Or a sponsored sit down, pop up restaurant. Either would be impossible to include in the fee, so let us pay for what we buy to eat. We just need more volume to soak up all the booze.
CHS Wine & Food – Closing Thoughts
I do love this event and the experience that it brings to Charleston. Thank you to the staff and volunteers that make the festival work.
Regarding my comment in the first paragraph: * You may wonder why don’t I attend any seminars, lunches, or dinners. As a wine writer, I get opportunities similar to these throughout the year. So spending $100 – $300+ for a one hour and fifteen-minute seminar puts my personal cost-benefit ratio out of whack. I am sure that these events are great fun, educational, and delicious. Lunches start at $115, and dinners start at $185… the same is true – my personal cost-benefit ratio out of whack. But for the CHSWFF demographic, these can be great opportunities.
Side Note: Another reason for attending on Friday is so you can sleep it off on Saturday.
Lastly, Always use Uber, Lyft, Taxi, or designated drivers to get to and from the festival. You may not be drunk, but you certainly will not be sober.
That is all for now,