>The Robertson Wine Valley Wacky Wine Festival

>6 to 8 June 2008

Taste responsibly, they said. Use the spittoons, they said. Designate a driver, keep track of your wine consumption and drink lots of water, they said. People did as they were asked and had a great time.

The Wacky Wine Weekend was a model of efficiency and professional event management without detracting from the aim of the Festival – promoting the valley and wineries. The organisers had a sensible attitude to a festival that could have turned out to be memorable for the wrong reasons. 16000 people, 2000 up from last year, on a wintery Cape weekend, and the traffic authorities were untroubled. The designated driver seemed the preferred route for the many wacky weekenders and on the wet roads it was a wise choice.

What I saw was a large amount of adults enjoying wines, as they are generally were meant to be enjoyed – with a meal, in the company of friends and sometimes with music. Some wines were magnificent, some were ordinary, but the event was special. Five years on, the organisers have hit on a winning formula.

The Wacky Wine Festival makes no claim to the title of the most sophisticated wine event on the calendar, but it is certainly the event where the participants have the most fun. What a winner for the wine industry in the Robertson valley and for all related industries in the region. To bring so many consumers and people from the trade to wineries, in the dead of winter, year after year, is not an easy task.

Total wine sales were up 24% from WWW 2007 – but that statistic does not tell the story about the effect of the weak economy on purchasing patterns. For the first time since the festival began some wineries reported a drop in sales. Consumers seem less inclined to spend on speculative purchases. Unless a consumer is blown away by a formerly unfamiliar wine they taste, they will purchase the tried and tested wine, or a wine that has obtained very good ratings or awards. The most well known wineries in the area reported the highest number of visitors. When disposable income drops, consumers become more discerning. The challenge to wineries and all service provides is to continually raise their game.

One of the major improvements over previous years was the quality and variety of food offerings. The standards were very high as professional caterers used the festival to showpiece their craft. Some of the wineries took advantage of the rugby test and used that as another opportunity to feed the crowds. Word spread very quickly that the food at one winery was magnificent, but another fell short of what was expected. And on a cold weekend, you know where the crowds are going to go. The caterer at two of the most popular venues made several trips to the local supermarkets to replenish supplies. Their most optimistic forecasts about the number of visitors were overtaken by happy consumers looking for good food. Quality sells.

Some of the attendees were there to discover new wineries, some were looking to revisit old favourites, some were just beginning the wonderful journey along the road of wine appreciation and there were some seasoned palates amongst the crowd. We all had one thing in common – to have a good time.

There was a large increase in visitors from Gauteng and the accommodation establishments benefitted from the longer stay – four nights instead of the one or two nights for visitors from Cape Town.

The many estates held different types of events, from dinners with Pop Idols, to one-on-one tutored tastings with the winemakers, to champagne and oyster breakfasts, from entertainment for kids to marquees where the rugby, not wine, was the main event.

Of course there is a place for the traditional wine show or festival, where a number of estates display their wines, side by side, in a convention centre or marquee. The downfall of those events is generally consumers do not spend a lot of time focussing on one winery. We table hop. Unless the consumer is using spittoons – and lets face it, not many people do – flavours and memories blur by the time you arrive at the third stand. How many of us can hold our hands on out hearts and say we remember clearly the wines we had over a two or three hour period at a wine show?

Where Wacky Wine Festival succeeds is that the consumers spend as much time as they wish at the farm and really get to grips with what the estate has to offer. As the consumers spend more time at the estate, they spend more time understanding the wines and what goes into their production. Over the duration of the weekend one can easily manage eight farms, leaving each estate with a clear understanding and appreciation for the wines, the feel of the estate and importantly leave fortified by a meal or substantial snack.

I will be there next year to enjoy this ever evolving and always fun festival.
Posted by Bernard Gutman at 13:01 0 comments

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