Harrisonburg’s getting pretty good at this festival thing. Between film festivals, music festivals, beer festivals, various heritage and diversity festivals, and wine festivals, you can be festive every month of the year in this town. I LOVE IT. The key to any great festival is inclusivity. Variety. Public interaction. The spirit of welcome. Makes sense that you’d find such qualities in full force on a Saturday afternoon in Harrisonburg.
Because of the awesome collaboration of our local businesses and organizations like Harrisonburg Downtown Renaissance, Bluestone Vineyard, and Downtown Wine and Gourmet, plus a host of local restaurants, and our always-reliable army of cheerful volunteers, citizens of and visitors to our city were able to enjoy a day where people, wines, and foods of all types engaged in merry mingling.
If you were there, you know the weather was absolutely perfect. Brandy, Michael, and I arrived promptly at 2:30, moved swiftly through the entrance line, and in a flash, had our stemless glasses in hand. We threw our stuff under the big tree and headed for the Turner Pavilion. There would be time for sitting later!
We headed for the nearest table, which happened to be number 6. There we found Bluestone Vineyard’s 2011 Rose paired with ( I know it sounds strange) Local Chop and Grill‘s Duck Fat Laced Local Watermelon cubes filled with Feta-Olive Mousse. I was a little wary at first… but then I ate like three cubes. Yes, watermelon and feta sounds like some kind of accidental spill, but those people know how to put flavors together! See? Integration. IT WAS DELICIOUS. We were off to a great start.
We got excited when we got to table 4 and saw the word “sriracha.” It’s getting to the point where I need it every day. Billy Jack’s offered a house-made crab cake with sriracha mayonnaise, paired with Don Manuel Chardonnay from William Harrison Wines. The fruity tones of the wine with the spicy crab cake were, again, luscious, and I started feeling a bit fancy.
Table 2 featured two of our favorites: Crosskeys Vineyards and Beyond Restaurant and Lounge. And I’m pretty sure as I approached the table, I let loose with a “Where are the meatballs?!” Cy kindly informed me that they were at the table across the way. “Beyond has two tables? Ohmygolly.” So we gladly ate the Crispy Vegetable Dumplings with house-made garlic and ginger soy sauce, paired with Crosskeys’ super-crisp and summery Joy White.
Next we got to sample my favorite meatballs in the universe, Beyond’s Teriyaki and Pineapple meatballs. The Tinto Negro Mendoza Malbec from Vineyard Brands was a soft, mild wine that didn’t compete with the meatballs, but complemented them. Which was probably wise because those meatballs kick butt. I remember that we lingered at that table for some time… til a plate of cheeseburgers went by.
At table 3, burgers sizzled on Jack Brown’s flat top grill while volunteers poured Edgebaston “The Pepper Pot” Red from Southern Starz Wines. Talk about a seamless integration… succulent beef with spicy, peppery wine… it was warm as an electric Snuggie. I also liked their Nugan Third Generation Shiraz from Australia.
Table 5 should have sported a map of France. Albert Bichot Wines offered the Chateau Boussargues Cotes du Rhone Rouge (“house…sompn sompn sompn sompn… red”), which was tres délicieux, avec Cotes du Rhone Cured Duck Breast, Red Wine Salt, and Poached Local Apple-Fennel-Raisin Preserve from our Local Grill and Chop House. The combination was… how do you say? Sublime. Ah oui!
Continuing with the multi-cultural flair, because Harrisonburg is so good at integration, we left France and tried Union Station‘s Smoked Jamaican Jerk Chicken Breast with Pineapple Salsa, paired with the Cottonwood Creek Organic White from Bronco Wine Co. This wine was like line-dried linen; it was one of my favorites of the day. Clean and fresh and smooth and beachy. They also offered a Truck Red Blend, which of course we had to try.
Union Station also set up shop at table 8, where we tried their Smoked Pulled Pork Sliders and House BBQ Sauce. THOSE were excellent!! And they’re so cute and little, you can eat like six of them so fast there’s no time to feel guilty. We washed those suckers down with what I think wins the award for the most creatively described wine at the festival, the Senda 66 Tempranillo, offered by Frontier Imports. Here’s what the program said: “An exotic wine with aromas of graham cracker, blueberry, violet petal, and pastry. It feels lush, grabby, chewy, and slightly tannic with heavy flavors of clove, black licorice, savory berry, and baked plum.” Okay, they managed to get fruits, herbs, baked goods, flowers, and a touch of candy all in one bottle. I-N-T-E-G-R-A-T-I-O-N!
The final two tables were hosted by Blue Nile. At table 9, we tried their Whole Lentils, Green Peppers, Chopped Lentils, and Bits of Injera tossed in Vinegar, Olive Oil, and Mustard. This dish had quite a kick, complemented nicely by the fresh, lemony Domaine de Ballade Blanc offered by Bourgeouis Family Wines (love that name!). We finished up with Small Vineyard’s Palama Arcangelo Negroamaro, a spicy Italian wine served with Blue Nile’s Collard Green, Stewed Onions, Garlic, and Ginger. The combination was lovely, and I thought it was cool to drink an Italian wine with my Ethiopian food.
Suddenly, it was 5pm, and we were ready to head to the lawn to hear the jazzy musings of the Rick Olivarez Trio, a band out of Charlottesville influenced by eastern European and French musicians, among others. Once out there in the sunshine, we saw more evidence of inclusivity. Chefs Alex and Jon were conducting cooking demonstrations. Their two dishes were Charleston Style Shrimp served on a Pan-Seared Grit Cake with Watercress and a Pomegranate-Thyme BBQ Glaze; and, Grilled Poundcake with Balsamic Marinated Strawberries. Well, I wasn’t going to miss that! Dozens of people stood around watching the demo, asking questions, and then being treated to a generous sampling. AND, Grilled Cheese Mania was there, too, in case you had a serious craving!
Another new thing this year? A beer garden. What?? Yes, a beer garden at the Wine Festival, provided by Specialty Beverage. This was a nice gesture to the companions of wine lovers who wanted to enjoy the festival together. Inclusivity! I love the idea of a beer garden. As if you can plant seeds and little taps will sprout up in your yard. Someone please invent that. So… why not? It was warm, I was thirsty, and there was corn hole. Beer and corn hole go hand in hand. Since we were a party of three, I teamed up with a total stranger to take on Michael and Brandy. And that’s how we spent the rest of our evening: playing corn hole, listening to great music, and making friends with strangers. Just another day in our friendly city.
Thanks, Burg, for a beautiful day. Thanks to the volunteers, the vendors, the sponsors, and the organizers. You are very much appreciated, and very much a part of what makes our home special. A la vôtre!
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