Loudoun County’s inaugural Epicurience Virginia food and wine festival — an upscale, three-day event in Leesburg, with affiliated events across the county — drew more than 1,200 visitors to Virginia’s wine country over Labor day weekend, organizers said.
Officials with Visit Loudoun, the county’s tourism association, had aimed for higher numbers — from 3,000 to 5,000, organization President Patrick Kaler said before the festival. But for a first-time event, planners said, they were satisfied with the turnout and positive feedback from the guests and festival vendors. Of the 10 off-site events hosted throughout the county, six sold out, said Jackie Saunders, director of media relations for Visit Loudoun.
Saunders said that, for an inaugural event, “we were really pleased with the results. We definitely expect it to build over the next couple of years, and looking at how much time we have this year, with some of our foundation already built, we’ll have more time to market and promote outside the area.”
In the coming months, Visit Loudoun staff members will evaluate the festival from a variety of perspectives to determine how best to continue and improve the event next time, Saunders said.
Surveys will be sent to participants and vendors, and their feedback will be examined, along with other factors, such as the timing of this year’s festival, which took place over a holiday weekend, when many Loudoun residents often go out of town.
Tourism officials were especially pleased that the event lured visitors from other states, including Michigan, Florida, Massachusetts and California.
“Next time, we’ll put together more hotel packages to promote a longer stay in Loudoun,” Saunders said.
The festival, which included more than 20 affiliated events that ranged in price from $18 for a breakfast at Aldie Mill to $300 for a Roaring 20s-style party at Oatlands Plantation in Leesburg, was financed in part by $600,000 in county funds designated to help launch the event over the next three years.
Saunders said the festival cost about $500,000. By the festival’s fourth year, Kaler said, he expects Epicurience to be financed solely by high-profile partnerships.
This year, Saunders said, the festival’s vendors and winemakers were especially pleased by the level of interaction they had with the participants.
“The attendees were very interested in learning about the products and the wine, and engaging with the winemakers, which they were really happy about,” she said. “Sometimes at some events, it’s just, get the taste and move on. But this audience was really connecting with each of our exhibitors.”
Just days after the festival ended, Saunders said they were already busy thinking about next year’s event.
“We’re really excited to start promoting it,” she said, “starting now.”