Friday, January 24, 2014

Field trip: Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival

It's hard to know just what to expect from a "Lake Michigan Shore Wine Festival." One of the ladies on our tour bus summed it up by saying, "...accent on Fest." I imagined the images below, only graced also with colorful tents on the beach sheltering tables and chairs, the tablecloths lifting and wafting in the soft lake breeze. I imagined baskets of wine plunked in the sand in shady nooks, waiting to join their fellows sitting opened and chilling in big silver ice buckets. And I imagined happy people floating around from tent to tent, tasting, talking to winemakers, and nibbling perfect wine-matched treats.

Certainly there were happy people wandering around tasting, but they were all under one big tent, in the beach parking lot. Who knew that a canvas roof above asphalt could collect and reverberate sound so? And, merely by being there, all of them were $15 lighter in the wallet than they had been that morning: cost of admission to the tent, $10, cost of a set of tasting tickets, five for $5. Cost of a full glass of wine, $5, or a full glass of premium wine, $7. Alas, no bottles of wine for sale to bring home.

So, amid these lovely images, you must imagine in the background all the experiences that come to mind with the phrase "county fair." Minus the rides, to be sure, but including the pounding loud, pounding thumping music.

At one dollar per one ounce tasting, we were compelled to be canny, and share samples when it seemed the nice winemakers weren't looking. Not that I begrudge them their money. I know that all too quickly, "wine tasting" translates into "free booze" for many otherwise honest and upright people. The public can become extremely puzzled and even irate when the pouring stops; they see themselves as doing the winemaker, or the retail shop, a favor by trying the product and becoming a potential customer. They don't see the open, empty bottle as a dead loss to the businessman. Unless he recoups.

So, yes, Fenn Valley, Tabor Hill, St. Julien, and all the rest are entitled to recoup. I wonder how it was done? No cash changed hands in the tasting tent. People bought tickets first, and gave over the right number of tickets for what they wanted. Did the wineries then turn in their tickets to the Weko Beach officials, in order to be reimbursed? What about the $10 admission fee, which bought no one any wine? Did the wineries divide this as well, or did it go to the park? I'm curious because of course there are anxious laws about alcohol in state parks, and about alcohol around children (and there were plenty of children present). I'm sure the tickets and the laws and the children and the ban on bottle sales were all connected.

The festival was as well run as it could have been, and it must be popular, too. When an event has a whole fleet of shuttle buses ferrying people back and forth from the venue to the town parking lot every ten minutes, you can be sure the organizers have learned and applied many lessons from years back.

It just happens to be an event I wouldn't return to any time soon. Perhaps our expectations were wildly unrealistic. Bottles in shady nooks, indeed. We were informed that the festival would only fold its tent at ten o'clock at night, so originally we were prepared for a long and interesting day. But, having arrived at 2 pm., everyone thankfully met up within a few hours and then agreed that returning home at 5:30 was a far more comfortable plan. The photo of the clouds above, taken through the bus window on the way home, looks kind of like a benediction, doesn't it?

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