"How's it going"
A tired official on the floor of the D.C. Armory tending to unresolved problems on opening night of the ambitious wine and cheese festival looked up and shrugged.
In the "oo-la-la!" world of wine promotion, a shrug usually can be interpreted as a negative signal, but the early reaction from those attending and exhibiting at the festival was distinctly mixed.
There was the Armory, a vast barn of a building despite efforts to give it the colors, flavors and sounds of half-a-dozen wine-producing countries. What was being offered free to those who had paid to gain admission was mostly information - pamphlets, newsletters and lectures. The wine samples were monumental neither in quantity nor in quality.
Yet the sponsors, a Rockville-based organization called Maitres des Tastevins, professed themselves content with a lean but hardly sparse opening-night turnout Wednesday and said they were "on target" in what it planned as the first of seven similar exhibitions around the nation. They hope crowds on the weekend and during the Veterans' Day holiday next Monday will swell attendance to at least 75,000. The 120 booths and food shops bring in additional money and do offer a variety of experiences for strollers.
The booth sponsored by Morris Miller Liquors, a District shop specializing in California wines, drew consumers and a number of exhibitors from the West Coast as well. At the booth sponsored by Les Amis du Vin, a national wine club, a representative said the group had earned "more goodwill than new members" thus far.
One could nibble on a piece of raisin-pumpernickel bread from the New York bakery or try yogurt dips with raw vegetables. The latter matched up quite well with a Spanish sheery, and at the moment of tasting a band was playing Spanish music in the background.
Several exhibitors were complimentary about the layout and organization of the festival."I'm impressed," said wine merchant Phil Flint. "There is a great deal of educational material here and a lot of interested consumers. That's a good sign. There's not going to be an orgy here."
For those who couldn't find a wine they liked, there were free jelly beans at the Capitol Hill Wine and Cheese Shop stand. Such wine adjuncts as glassware and corkscrews were on display not far away.
But the cooking exhibition didn't happen the first evening. The Fire Marshal had axed the stove arrangement. And the room where more than 600 wines entered in a "National American Wine Competition" stood empty. The noise from outside had driven the judges to the nearby RFK Stadium Clubhouse restaurant.
By yesterday afternoon, the judges had given awards in six categories of "open" (all states) competition. The cooking demonstrations were under way.
The festival began with a celebrity grape-stomping contest at which wine merchant Addie Bassin dropped his trousers, only to reveal a pair of athletic shorts hidden beneath. By evening Celeste Georger, a Marriott Corporation employee, and two women friends were moving purposefully from booth to booth. "I only drink wine," she said, "so I'm here from a deep interest."
The grape-stomping contests will continue through Monday, as will the lectures and displays. You pay your money ([WORD ILLEGIBLE] is the admission price) and take your choice. Those who do so help determine whether education can be conducted in a show-biz setting and whether wine yet has mass appeal in this country.