Sunday, August 15, 2010

Festival of the Vine

(To be published in the Dayton City Paper.)
The demand for red wine in Lincoln Park was low this weekend.IMG_0935
Fraze Pavilion’s annual Festival of the Vine always brings out a crowd for sampling wine, kicking back to some cool jazz, and enjoying a shady afternoon. This year, however, with humidity approaching Evergladesian levels and heat indices to make Carl Nichols rethink his retirement, most of the crowd at the festival looked to be avoiding big mouthfuls of tannin.
However, the heat couldn’t stop the groove. A passing thunderstorm caused a brief scramble for shelter at one point, but for most of the afternoon, a steady diet of cool jazz and cooler wine kept the laid back attendees as comfortable as possible in the shade.
This year’s Festival of the Vine mirrored the previous ones. “Like in previous years, we want folks to get a chance to try a bunch of different wines, and hopefully they’ll find something that they like,” proudly stated Kevin Bratton of Heidelberg Distributing, provider of the 35 or so wines available during the evening. “We want to make sure that people get a chance to try things from everywhere. We’ve got New World – largely North American wine,” said Kevin, “We’ve got Old World wines and a sparkling wine tent. And we’ve got an Italian tent because of Claudio.”
This is a good strategy. With that many options, people will probably find new favorites. Festival of the Vine isn’t the kind of event where someone will be able to really *taste* different wines. What they will do is find out what wines are good to slug on a hot day, and that’s a good idea. On a 90 degree day, discussing nuances of torrontes vs. sauvignon blanc isn’t going to be a conversation I’ll want to have, but a “Yep. This helps me forget the heat for a second.” is.
The aforementioned “Claudio” is Claudio Salvador, importer of all the wines in the Italian tent and chief winemaker of Firelands Winery in Sandusky, Ohio. The same weekend as Festival of the Vine was “Toast of Ohio,” another wine festival in Northern Ohio. “I’ve got my crew up there taking care of that. I wanted to come down here!”
Claudio told me that he wanted to showcase some of his wines that were probably unfamiliar to many of the folks at the festival. “We like bringing wines in that people don’t necessarily know. They’re going to know them very soon. Everyone has Pinot Grigio, but with the whites, people haven’t usually tried Gavi or Grecho. Grecho, for instance, is originally from Greece. The Grecho is a very aromatic varietal. People think that it’s the ancestor of Sauvignon Blanc and such.”
Claudio said that he is planning to return to Dayton in November with some of the winemakers from the wines he was showing. “We’re going to do some dinners, which will all be just fantastic. We’re still figuring out exactly where we’re doing them.”
At Claudio’s recommendation, I gave the La Balle Grecho Basilicata a try. One a day like this, the crispness was a welcome respite from the heat. Fruity, acidic, and with a little bit of honey – I could certainly have imagined myself under one of the trees, wrapped around a bottle of the stuff.
I sampled a few of the other wines around the concourse as well. The Monticello Albarino was a refreshing quaff, as was the Grenache-based Belleruche Blanc, a white from the Rhone region in France. I also snagged a glass at one point of the Barefoot Brut sparkling wine. Despite the good banter at the tasting table – the conversation far outstripped the bubbly. The music outstripped both. 
Besides, doing heavy wine tasting isn’t the point of an afternoon IMG_0931like this. I’ll definitely lean towards relaxing and good jazz. As my newest friend “Ron from Atlanta” put it, “The wine doesn’t matter to me. I’m here for the music, man. I came up here for a family reunion. I heard [Nate White] was playing, and I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss him. He’s smooth!”
“Oh, and this weather y’all are having? It’s like springtime! I feel right at home.”

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