The Fourth Annual Festival of the Vinifera Wine Growers Association was hardly a success. The rain, the small crowds and the disorganization saw to that. Not that the organizers were responsible for the rain at Middleburg on Aug. 25. The Wet Weather Weekend Syndrome, so familiar this summer, contributed to the small crowds, but it was not the only cause of the aggravations of the day.
Like the locally-grown vinifera wines, the festival was for the enquiring of mind and adventurous of body. There were few signposts and fewer banners to guide visitors, and the advance publicity pamphlet left a great deal to be desired, including the times and exact location of events.
The mood was bucolic: a country fair for the local farmers and villagers. But the organizers had promoted the festival as a public event and the public, many of whom had driven long distances, had come to be educated, to be informed and to taste wine, as well as to have a day in the country. For the $10 entrance fee, wine samples included, they were entitled to better planning and execution of the announced events.
The winery and vineyard tours were haphazard. At three of the four wineries that were open to the public, it was hard to find someone who could inform, let alone educate. The owners themselves were at the Association's Eighth Annual Seminar. One winery offered samples of an unpleasantly acidic white wine, confessing that it was a blend of vinifera (vines of European origin) and French hybrid (the crossing of vinifera and Eastern American species). Another poured Almaden Mountain Chablis "because we haven't bottled our own yet."
The seminar, once located, reinforced the rural mood. Here was an open meeting for insiders; the growers and viticulturists of Virginia and Maryland.Standing in the rain, exchanging experiences and wine gossip, were some of the pioneers and authorities on grape-growing in the East Coast including Konstantin Frank and Hamilton Mowbray, strong protagonists of the vinifera grape. Lucie Morton, taking a leaf out of her own book, "A Practical Ampelography: Grapevine Identification" (Cornell University Press), was analyzing the mold on grape samples.
The festival's footnote, or is it feet-note, belonged to the Grape Stompin' Contest. Set in a large meadow that had been designated as the Festival Center, but where little else happened, the contest promised to be the day's most entertaining event. The first contestant, wearing a below-the-knees, narrow-fitting denim skirt, had a little difficulty stepping into the tub of grapes. Sixty seconds and three pitchers of pressed juice later, she was lifted from the tub to the enthusiastic approval of her supporters.
As the contest continued, the run-off juice threatened to have an illegally high content of water. The rain put a dampener on some good, sticky fun.