Ask any of the organizers of the2nd Annual Live Free and Wine Festival put on by the NH Winery Association and they’ll tell you the event was a resounding success. The tickets sales and attendance were more than double the prior year. It was a beautiful sunny day. The band Beatlejuice rocked the event from noon til 5pm. The vendors of New Hampshire Made were there offering a great range of products and foods made in NH, some wine related, some not. Even the food vendors offered good prices, $1 water, and food items that complimented wine tasting, like warm olives and cheeses. For a $20 ticket price (purchased in advance), you received a souvenir tasting glass and 10 drink tickets – a pretty good deal.
Some criticisms heard had to do with long lines of people queuing up to get their tiny little pour at each of wineries. The event staff kept trying to get people to walk right up to the tables but it is often the nature of crowds to stand in line. Several times I tried to do what the staff instructed only to be told by people who had waited in line for 20 or more minutes to get in line. The wineries were set up in a couple of the exhibition buildings on the Rochester Fairgrounds. In hindsight perhaps the organizers will learn from this year’s growing pains that they can let the wineries spread out a little bit more. They were all crammed close together when there was plenty of room to utilize. This contributed to the long lines.
It was a beautiful sunny day, but it was hot in the buildings and there was little air circulating. I suggested that the event be held in the fall but that is not good timing for the wineries as it is harvest time. Still I think some more attention needs to be paid to the consumer’s experience. Many people actually gave away their tasting tickets to anyone nearby because they were too hot and decided to leave. Hot people standing in long lines don’t feel as excited to buy wines as you might think. So considering that this year the event doubled in size these can all be chalked up to growing pains and hopefully the NHWA will take some of these criticisms into consideration as they plan next year’s event.
Also note: better ice service is necessary for the white wines. Many of the wineries were serving overly warm whites, and frankly the reds were hotter than they should have been. Another suggestion would be to provide some instructions on the printed material like the ticket of passport about how to tour the festival. That could have avoided some of the insane lines early on in the day.
Couldn’t get around to see and meet everyone during the event. I knew that I was planning visits to a lot of the vineyards individually during the summer so I chose lines
without much rhyme or reason. I started out with Sweet Baby Vineyards. I sampled the Baby’s Blush, a blend of Leon MIllot and NH grown white peaches. A refreshing start. Later returned to taste their Amarone Kensington Red. It was hot so I tasted more whites than reds. I enjoyed Flag Hill’s Cayuga White and bought a few bottles but when I opened it up at home that night I found it too sweet. Great nose. At Fulchino Vineyard I loved the description of the Frontenac Gris – aromas of coconut, pineapple, peach, and apricot, and it hit the spot on a hot day. LaBelle Winery was pouring several wines and by sharing with my wife I got to taste the Seyval Blanc, Gewürztraminer, and Three Kings port style desert wine. I like their use of fruit and hybrids like Seyval Blanc and Marechal Foch. Haunting Whisper from up in the Lakes Region has a great line of local hybrids. They produce Aurore, Traminette, Vignoles, Lacrosse, Seyval, Frontenac Gris, and more. I tasted the Vignoles. At Olde Nutfield I tried their Clementine Desert wine. Fragrance but soft on the palate. Not heavy like a lot of desert wines. Hermit Woods is proud to tell us that the Balsams Grand Resort Hotel is hosting a dinner featuring Hermit Woods wines. I tried the Apple-Pear wine but I saw on their website that they have a Tomato wine they say tastes something like a Riesling. Hmm. Candia was pouring several interesting wines. I wanted the Noiret but tasted the Riesling. Wish I had tried the Noiret. A lot of my decisions were heat related. I wish I had gotten around to Farnum Hill to try their ciders but I guess I’ll have to visit them instead. I also skipped Jewell Towne Vineyard as I live nearby and have been drinking their wines for years. Along with Flag Hill they are one of the oldest wineries in the state.
There were a couple of meaderies (honeyed wine) pouring. I tasted Sap House Meadery Sugar Maple mead. Cool beeswax dipped bottles. Good traditional mead. Moonlight Meadery had several offerings. I tried Sumptuous (mango), Sensual (traditional), and Desire (blueberry). Enjoyed them all.
Towards the end of the day I had a chance to meet the Oberts, Chris and Nancy. With no particular background in wine, just a passion for travel to New England and exploring all that it has to offer, they decided to write “The Next Harvest The Vineyards and Wineries of New England” It’s a beautiful hardcover published by Peartree Publishing, an imprint of Obert Publishing. It provides a good background on the land, the history, the grapes, and then the wineries and vineyards, organized by state. They’ve clearly spent a good amount of time in the region. They were offering the book at a great discount. Of course I bought a copy.
All in all the Second Annual Live Free and Wine Festival was a huge success. I just hope the association takes into account some of the logistics and attendee comforts like better ventilation throughout the buildings. I imagine that next year will be even bigger still.