How Food and Wine Festivals are Pivoting During Covid-19 | Wine Enthusiast
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How Food and Wine Festivals are Pivoting During Covid-19

Several months have passed since the stay-at-home orders went into effect across the U.S. due to the novel coronavirus. While some states are currently in different phases of reopening, others are reentering another phase of shutdowns. The fatigue of solitary life and staring at screens to catch a glimpse of the outside world is weighing heavily on many.

Although attending an event in-person, such as a wine and food festival, seems unlikely, it’s not out of the question. Savvy planners have embraced the idea of going small by creating intimate, individualized food and wine experiences aligned with health regulations rather than large festivals.

There won’t be any thronging crowds bustling from table to table, but these festivities will offer a momentary break from virtual reality, all while supporting local wineries, restaurants and other businesses.

 New Orleans Wine & Food Experience
Photo courtesy of New Orleans Wine & Food Experience

New Orleans Wine & Food Experience

On March 11, Aimee Brown, executive director of New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (NOWFE), announced the 28-year-old, five-day festival would be postponed due to Covid-19.

But as restaurants began reopening with limited capacity over the summer, Brown reached out to local eateries to propose some wine dinners modeled after the events originally planned in March. Participating restaurants all over the city were then paired with wineries, and a winery representative called in during the dinner via Zoom and discussed the bottles being poured.

The success of these small, weekly experiences that started in mid-July led to Brown’s vision for NOWFE 2020.

The festival has four major events. Two took place in November, but guests can still purchase tickets for the Art Walk & Wine Tasting, set up in art galleries along Fulton Street, and the Seated Mini-Vinola event, held at swanky venue The Rib Room.

Each event has staggered entry times.

“We didn’t want to give up, we didn’t want to wait until 2021,” says Brown. “So, if we do an event for 30 people, we do an event for 30 people. It’s okay. We want to support our restaurants and wineries. And that’s the backbone of why we’re even doing all of this.”

Saturday, December 5, 2020:  4 p.m.- 6 p.m. “Art Walk & Wine Tasting

Saturday, December 12, 2020: 2 p.m.- 5 p.m. “Seated Mini-Vinola

People drinking at the Key West Food and Wine Festival
Photo courtesy of the Key West Food & Wine Festival

Key West Food & Wine Festival

Mark Certonio, event director of the Key West Food & Wine Festival (KWFWF), created smaller events that would allow for both indoor and outdoor dinners while maintaining social-distancing and capacity restrictions.

The festival will take place in early 2021. And the theme is Indulgence, a nod to the fatigue of being home, cooking every night and the desire to be pampered.

Every event is a little bacchanalian and a little over the top.

“We’re keeping the experiences small,” says Certonio. “They’re not just about the food and wine at this festival. It is about telling the stories and introducing people to unknown parts of Key West.”

The festival has multiple events, including rooftop dinners, spread across January 27–31, 2021. Participants can expect vendors like Key West Trading Company, The Key West Absinthe Society and more. Some of the planned events are listed below.

Thursday, January 28, 2021: 1 p.m.–3 p.m. “Wine on the Roof Tour & Tasting”

Thursday, January 28, 2021: 5 p.m.–7 p.m. “Sunset on the Beach”

Friday, January 29, 2021: 6 p.m.–9 p.m. “The Absinthe of Ernest”

Saturday, January 30, 2021: 2 p.m.–4 p.m. “Screw It”

Saturday, January 30, 2021: 4:30 p.m.–6:30 p.m. “Wind & Wine Sunset Sail”

30A Wine Festival at Alys Beach in Florida
30A Wine Festival at Alys Beach in Florida / Photo courtesy of 30A Wine Festival

30A Wine Festival at Alys Beach

Named one of the ten best wine festivals by USA Today in 2018 and 2019, this Alys Beach, Florida, favorite is another event focused on a more personalized experience complete with servers to deliver wine and food to tables so everyone can remain safely seated, rather than going virtual.

“We’re calling it Intermezzo, which is a kind of a break in the action almost, a palate cleanser in between courses…There will be 10 smaller events, [with] 50 people or less, but as extravagant and amazing as our big festivals. Except, it’ll actually be nicer because it’s a more one-on-one experience with our winemakers and distillers,” says Alexis Miller, director of events for Alys Beach.

Hertelendy Vineyards wine at the 30A Wine Festival
Hertelendy Vineyards wine at the 30A Wine Festival / Photo courtesy of 30A Wine Festival

Unlike some of the other festivals, 30A WF is only selling individual event tickets. There will be two dinners each evening to choose from, which enables organizers to implement strict safety procedures.

Guests can expect to see the new kid on the block, The Citizen, and their coastal dishes; Latin-inspired delicacies from Chef Renato of Caliza; local winemakers and more. Michael and Valerie Thompson of Thompson 31Fifty will also be there serving up some unique bites and drinks.

Events will span a number of off-the-beaten-path outdoor parks around Alys Beach. Each attendee will buy an assigned seat and receive a mask upon arrival.

Thursday, February 18, 2021: 6 p.m.–9 p.m. “Oysters & Champagne Dinner in Moongate Park”

Thursday, February 18, 2021: 6 p.m.–9 p.m.  “Tequila Dinner in Central Park”

Friday, February 19, 2021: 6 p.m.–9 p.m. “Bourbon & Que on Kelly Green”

Friday, February 19, 2021: 6 p.m.–9 p.m. “Thompson 31Fifty Wine Dinner at Arboleda Park”

Saturday, February 20, 2021: 11:30 a.m.–2:30p.m. “Ryu Wine Lunch at Papilio Park”

Saturday, February 20, 2021:  6 p.m.–9 p.m. “Evening Land Vineyards Wine Dinner at Caliza”

Saturday, February 20, 2021: 6 p.m.–9 p.m. “Scale Wine Group Wine Dinner at Fire Pit Park”

Sunday, February 21, 2021: 10 a.m.–12 p.m. “Rise & Imbibe Gospel Brunch at the Gulf Green”

Sunday, February 21, 2021: 12 p.m.–3 p.m. “Rose’ & Croquet Team”