The Tasting Panel magazine

November 2014

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70  /  the tasting panel  /  november 2014 A LONE STAR LIFE B oston just wrapped up its 26th annual wine festival. Virginians have rallied to their state's wine festival for 39 years running. The Niagara Wine Festival, in Toronto, has been celebrating the grape for 63 years. And this past September, the Wine & Art Festival of Cleburne, Texas logged year number two. That's a big deal when you realize Cleburne's inaugural fest turned out to be quite waterlogged. "You don't understand. It was raining horrible rain," remembers Tracy Marroquin, who orga- nized last year's gathering in Cleburne (population 29,747), about 27 miles south of Fort Worth. "I had all the booths sold, the food trucks had come and I had a DJ. They all left because of the rain." Still, about 800 people showed up. And so Marroquin rolled the dice again this year. Along with dozens of art and vendor booths, she featured ten wineries pouring all day. And they were all Texas wines—for a good reason. Because if you want to build a wine fes- tival, you'd be smart to follow a couple of Marroquin's guidelines, including presenting something new to visitors. "I love wine from everywhere, but our niche is Texas wines, and those can still be hard to find in-state," Marroquin says, adding that it's also hard to find them in town because Cleburne only turned "wet" (allowing alcohol sales to the public) a handful of years ago. "But there is so much Texan pride in Texas products that Texas wines can be a real draw." Marroquin does good by her winer- ies, too, by not charging them a set-up fee and by paying them a percentage of each ticket sold. Other tips she passes on include being a non-profit ("The big companies generally won't work with you if you're not a non-profit") and working with a small, nimble city government. Just days from this recent festival, she needed a city ordinance adjusted to allow for both the consump- tion and sale of wine. Everyone says you can't fight city hall, but don't tell Marroquin. She got the ordinance adjusted. And finally, she admits that being flexible is helpful at times, but mostly you just have to stick to your guns: "In the very beginning, getting the vendors to cooperate and not tell me how to do things was a bit of a chal- lenge. I just had to say: 'Hey, it's first come, first served, and these are the rules. If you'd like to be a part of it, we want to have you.'" The bottom line: If you want to build a wine festival, hire a go-getter like Marroquin to organize it. Cleburne's second annual Wine & Art Festival drew about 2,000 guests. by Anthony Head / photo by Kirk Weddle If You Build a Wine Festival, LESSONS FROM CLEBURNE WINE & ART FESTIVAL They Will Come More advice from Cleburne Wine & Art Festival orga- nizer Tracy Marroquin: Don't skimp on the entertainment. "Live music is the only way to go. It brings in even more people, who might not otherwise attend."

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