Loudoun County’s second annual Epicurience Virginia wine and food festival might still be many months away, but county tourism officials are already intently focused on making it bigger and better than last year’s inaugural event.
Last month, officials with Visit Loudoun, the county’s tourism association, received the results of a survey completed by more than 300 people who attended the upscale, three-day culinary festival over Labor Day weekend. Over the weeks, festival planners said they will be incorporating that feedback into their planning for this year’s event, which they hope will be even more popular among guests and more lucrative for the county and local vendors.
The event’s organizers said they were especially pleased that the festival’s attendees praised the quality of the featured Virginia wines, and 95 percent of the survey respondents indicated that they would return to the event.
“That was a great, great result,” said Jackie Saunders, Visit Loudoun’s vice president of marketing. “The top-rated experience was the quality of the wine, and if you’re producing a wine festival, that’s the kind of thing that you want to see at the top of the scale.”
The inaugural event drew more than 1,200 visitors to Loudoun, according to organizers. Planners had initially hoped for higher attendance — closer to 5,000 people — but said they were satisfied with the turnout for a new event. At this year’s festival, which again will be held over Labor Day weekend at Morven Park in Leesburg, organizers are hoping to draw about 3,500 guests.
Brian Jenkins, director of business strategy and research for Visit Loudoun, said the organization also hopes to lure even more out-of-town visitors to the event — last year, they accounted for about 23 percent of the festival’s attendance, with the average overnight guest spending more than $1,000 in Loudoun.
“This year, if there were 875 overnight guests, that could bring in close to a million in spending for overnight visitors alone,” he said.
Jenkins said it also was helpful to see that the majority of last year’s festival participants were “Gen Xers,” between the ages of 32 and 53.
“That lines up with all of our advertising, those are the markets we were targeting,” Jenkins said. “So it really good to see that that was reflected in the people that were there.”
While the results were largely positive, festival-goers did raise some complaints, including the price of tickets, parking availability and food options at the festival.
Saunders said this year’s event will offer more accessible parking, additional food sales and chef demonstrations, and a more condensed, easy-to-navigate layout. Tickets will also be offered with a tiered pricing structure, organizers said, with lower prices available for those purchased in advance.
And while the main festival will still be for guests 21 and older, Saunders said, Visit Loudoun is working with other organizations in the area to create more options for families — such as camps and activities to keep kids occupied while their parents attend the event.
She said the organization was confident that the survey feedback would help planners address the concerns and expectations of festival-goers.
“Year two should be much more tailored, much more customized to the kind of visitor we want,” Saunders said. “I think that everything we discovered from the research and the feedback for the first year event is that all of the things that weren’t positive are things that we can fix and improve upon, which is great.”