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Becker Vineyards at the Sunday Fair
Wine Downpour at the Sunday Fair
by Steve Labinski
Foodies and wine connoisseurs from Austin and the Central Texas area enjoyed their own kind of Woodstock last Sunday, gathering together in the wet, muddy fields of Driftwood, Texas to enjoy the Sunday Fair, the closing party for the Texas Hill Country Wine and Food Festival. Although the dark clouds threatened rain throughout the afternoon, nothing ever came of it. Instead plenty of wine was poured and lots of fun was to be had.
For twenty five years, the festival has celebrated Texas wine and food producers, playing a key part in the region's successful emergence as a player on the world stage. The preceding days of the festival included many hard hitting, pricier, events, at many leading Austin venues, such as The Driskill Hotel, III Forks Steakhouse, the Four Seasons and the rooftop of the flagship Whole Foods Market Culinary Center.
Occurring on the last day of the festival, the Sunday Fair is the "outreach event" where for the cost of a moderately priced ticket, in this case $45, anyone can show up and enjoy four large open air tents filled with wineries and food vendors offering delicious samples. Set just out of town on the soon-to-be-home of the Salt Lick's winery, it was the perfect place to enjoy wine and food, watch cooking demonstrations and listen to live music all afternoon.
The Driftwood tent sat closest to the entrance, featuring on the inside some of the best wines from the Texas Hill Country. Kim McPherson of McPherson Vineyards and Mark Hyman of Llano Estacado Winery were on hand to personally pour a wide selection of whites and red from their excellent wineries.
For those seeking stronger libations, the spirits tent was located on the opposite side of the venue. Wisely, event planners reasoned that people truly in need for the stronger stuff will travel completely through the park to find it. And they were correct! The tent was packed with people tasting the many new hard liquor offerings which have sprung up recently in Central Texas.
The booth for Tito's Vodka was constantly busy, as was nearby Savvy Vodka offering shots of cranberry Cape Cods from the new Austin micro-distillery.
Marker's Mark is certainly not a Texas product, but the Tipsy Texan was on hand serving up amazingly delicious mint juleps with the bourbon, as well as the muddled mint leaves. A marvelous preview of Kentucky Derby festivities just several days away!
Tasty Nibbly Things, Cooking Demos, Great Music
We'll be honest, our main gripe was that although there was plenty of liquid refreshment on hand, the event was light on savory food. The Salt Lick did cater some barbecue, although the dining trucks were delayed awhile because they got stuck in the mud. One of the best vendors was tucked way in the back - Green Grass Meats, offering grass fed beef raised on a ranch out in Llano, Texas. Also, the longest line which we consistently saw for anything was the delicious hors d'oeuvres cooked up live by Dagar's Catering. Their table of salmon puffs and cheesy tidbits were delicious.
There were plenty of non-Texas promoters present as well, including wineries from California and Washington state. There was even a food booth from Australia. The folks from Down Under were serving samples of barramundi, a sweet, buttery white fish raised mercury free.
Throughout the afternoon, the cooking tent stayed filled to capacity with outstanding cooking demonstrations from chef John Besh of New Orleans, chef Jason Dady who operates the amazing Lodge Restaurant in San Antonio, Austin chef David Bull and Texas' own pastry queen Rebecca Rather.
There was even excellent music to compliment the festivities, and soothe those wanting to take a break from walking around. Suzanna Choffell started off the afternoon, followed by a rousing performance from Kat Edmonson, Austin's own Billie Holiday. The Trishas completed the musical line-up.
By the end of the day, the 25th Annual Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival had drawn to a close. Discovering new wine and food, much of which made in your own backyard, is always richly pleasant. It was impossible not to leave the Sunday Fair completely sated.
We eagerly await next year's festival. Follow events on their website at www.texaswineandfood.org.
Steve Labinski lives in Austin, TX.