While my tastes in wine vary all over the place, the main reason I visit Vintage Ohio every year (four years out of five running, with the year I missed coincided with my Egypt trip) is for the unlimited drinking option that is available at a low, low price. The problem with wine festivals, as some readers may be quick to point out, is that they can be very expensive for only a few tastes of some wine you likely cannot pronounce or are ever able to afford. Vintage Ohio is completely different. $28 at the door and you receive a wine glass and a 56 box punch card for samples from anywhere between 18 and 30 wineries, all from Ohio.
This year was especially exceptional as we found a Groupon for tickets for nearly half off and my brother achieved the feat never before seen in our group: filling up the entire punch card. I reached 39 samples myself and walked away with 6 bottles of dessert wines ranging from Cherry, Rhubarb, all the way to Strawberry Shortcake made by some of the specialty brewers - a real treat for Ohio wines.
From my experiences at Vintage Ohio and looking at several others around the world, I have seen a common trend in their marketing that make them either an affordable and fun-filled day or a pretentious over-priced fiasco that should be avoided entirely. The following are three tips that will help you differentiate the two categories and hopefully save you some serious cash when looking for a wine festival outing.
1) How Much is the Ticket?
No matter who you are or how impressive your love of wine may be, the cost of a ticket can turn anyone off of visiting a wine festival or related event. With prices that can range from $20 to several hundred for a comparable experience, this aspect should be scrutinized very closely. For a comparison, most vineyards will give free or cheap samples ($0.25 - $1 per taste) when you show up in hopes that you leave with a bottle or two - so spending a fixed price for a similar experience in one place should have an added benefit for the cost.
Secret Tip - If you are looking for wine tastings in a specific city, or know of a city that a future event is going to be in, sign up for Groupon or other social deal reminder sites in that city several months beforehand for a discount up to or exceeding 50% off. Otherwise check out online presales which offer savings above gate price.
2) What Do You Get?
As I mentioned above, for $28 max price for Vintage Ohio gives you a punch card for 56 samples, a free wine glass, and access to a park full of free food samples and other great vendors. With a half off Groupon my 39 tastes amounted to about 50 cents a sample with a lot of free food. Would this be worth it if the ticket was $200? Not in the slightest. Would rubbing elbows with Food Network chefs at a private wine tasting event at an upscale vineyard for $200 be worth it? Not for me, but maybe you would be interested.
The key is knowing what is provided and what your interest level is. Couple that with cost and you'll know if the festival is worth it or not.
3) What is the Venue?
It may not be something you think of first-hand, but the venue for the event makes all the difference in the world. If the festival includes dozens of vineyards from around the world/state/region and is held at a massive complex with food trucks and other entertainment, you can easily assume that there will be thousands of people and lines to match as the day progresses (typically lines are very sparse at opening, something we take advantage of proudly). If the event is at an art gallery, you may be able to assume the crowds will be smaller but the wine selection and price may be adjusted in opposing directions to match.
The location of the event may not matter in the decision making process, but planning your day around the event should be considered based off of crowd control, line restrictions, and even the weather. Keep that in mind when considering waiting in a long line in hot weather after consuming two dozen wine samples - plan accordingly!
If you take all of these tips in to account when determining if the next wine festival is worth it for you the experience will be strengthened significantly. All I know now is that I will be enjoying sitting back with my half dozen bottles of wine over the coming months, eagerly awaiting next years Vintage Ohio Festival and searching for more.