Will Drive for Wine

Grand Rapids festival is a wine lover’s utopia

Drive a few hours west later this month and you can simultaneously sample wines from right around the corner and across the globe.

Celebrating its eighth year, the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival returns Nov. 19-21, occupying close to 3 acres’ worth of space at the DeVos Place Convention Center downtown.

It’s a road trip worth taking, with more than 100 wineries and 1,200 wines represented — not to mention beer and food.

“In the past eight years, this event has grown to be the highlight of the pre-holiday season — not only for Grand Rapids, but for West Michigan,” says Dianna Stampfler, the show’s publicist. “You won’t find a culinary event of this magnitude anywhere in the Midwest that brings together the caliber of presenters and products in a downtown area rich with foodie culture.”

One of the coolest aspects of the event is the place of honor given to Michigan wineries, stationed in the first few rows of vendors as guests enter the main wine hall. More than 30 Michigan wineries are on the roster this year, including the Wineries of Old Mission Peninsula (WOMP).

“It serves as a solid opportunity to share the wine and personalities of our eight member wineries with attendees,” says Sara Klebba, WOMP’s spokeswoman. “There is an amazing story behind the location and each individual winery on Old Mission Peninsula, and attending a show like this allows us the opportunity to connect with old friends who have visited the wineries as well as forge new friendships with folks who aren’t familiar with the area or the wineries.”

From the Michigan aisles, attendees can turn a corner and find themselves transported — virtually, at least — to Napa, Alsace, Mosel, or Rioja.

It is, I observed during a past show, the only place where you can sip Brys Estate Pinot Noir from Michigan one moment and Dom Perignon from France the next.

Besides booth-to-booth sampling, guests can augment their experience with paid pairing sessions ($45-$60) that highlight dishes by upscale local restaurants alongside wine and beer. Plus, more than a dozen restaurants will be onsite, selling small plates of their specialties.

Attendees also can partake in a lineup of free seminars and workshops addressing various food and beverage topics. I’ll be there Friday and Saturday presenting “Reds on the Rise,” focused on traveling Michigan’s wine trails and the state’s increasing red wine production. Other topics include wine regions throughout the world, wine basics, specific grape varietals, and various wine styles.

Stampfler says there have been several additions to this year’s festival, including the new Elite Wine Collection, featuring “higher end, higher priced” wines.

Admission to the festival is $15 for Thursday or when purchased in advance for Friday or Saturday. Friday and Saturday admission is $20 at the door. A three-day pass is available for $40.

Food and drink sampling requires additional tasting tickets, available in .50 denominations onsite.

A free festival app available for Apple or Android devices allows users to browse wine lists, view seminar schedules, and more.

For more information or to purchase tickets, visit GRWineFestival.com

Cortney Casey is a certified sommelier and co-founder of MichiganByTheBottle.com, a website and online community that promotes the entire Michigan wine industry. She’s also co-owner of Michigan By The Bottle tasting rooms operated in partnership with multiple Michigan wineries and located in Shelby Township and Royal Oak. Contact her at cort@michiganbythebottle.com.


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