If an ambitious initiative by Visit Loudoun succeeds as its organizers hope, Loudoun could become the home of the premier East Coast food and wine festival. Last night, the Board of Supervisors lined up in support of the project, backing the request to dedicate hotel tax revenues to help underwrite the event.
“We envision it becoming a major food and wine event for Loudoun, and ultimately to be the biggest event on the East Coast,” Visit Loudoun President and CEO Patrick Kaler today said of plans for Epicurience Virginia (an Epic Wine & Culinary Experience).
The multi-day festival would be a signature event as part of Visit Loudoun’s goal to make Loudoun the top wine destination on the East Coast. Loudoun is home to 38 wineries and about half a dozen breweries.
Planned to extend over four days of Labor Day weekend, Kaler said the collaboration between Loudoun’s wineries, breweries, restaurants, farms and tourism destinations is designed to bring 10,000 visitors to the county during its first year.
“That’s a typically slow weekend, and having programming from Friday to Monday will extend visitors’ stay,” Kaler said.
So far, the enthusiasm for the project is infectious, Kaler noted. The timing is good—before grape harvesting time—and it’s an excellent way to unite hotels in the eastern part of the county with restaurants and farms in the west.
Kaler has based the initiative on a number of food and wine festivals around the country, including the Charleston [SC] Wine & Food Festival and the Aspen [CO] Food & Wine Classic. The latter event has been ongoing for 30 years, and uses a different model than the South Carolina expo. “In Aspen, they cap it at 5,000 visitors, with an annual economic impact of $3 million. Food and Wine magazine is the major media sponsor for that event.
The eight-year-old Charleston festival has a larger monetary impact, according to Kaler. Last year, the event had 21,000 visitors, for an estimated $8.6 million economic impact.
While the various festival destinations are not yet firmed up, he said, early committers include Morven Park, Salamander Spa and Resort, Tarara Winery, Breaux Vineyard, Fabbioli Cellars and Boxwood Winery. Salamander is set to open in late August, a week before the festival and also plans to hold an event Friday, Aug. 30. Kaler said there would be a grand tasting on Saturday, Aug, 31, at Morven Park.
“We have between 60 and 70 people working on 10 different committees for the event,” Kaler said. The event expands on the Farm-to-Fork initiative organized by entrepreneur Miriam Nasuti over the past few years, in which wineries, restaurants and farms collaborated in an 11-day food festival held at participating restaurants, featuring the food and drink of local producers.
Kaler is impressed by the creativity and enthusiasm among the participants: “It’s really exciting; they’re really embracing it,” he said, noting different participants are thinking of the ways in which they can host an event at their farm or winery.
In thinking of ways to promote the event, Kaler said the Visit Loudoun website will allow visitors to plan their entire trip, from reserving hotel rooms to scheduling specific activities.
Throwing its support behind the initiative, the Board of Supervisors voted unanimously during Thursday’s budget work session to commit $200,000 in FY14 and earmark another $200,000 in FY15 for the project. The board will vote in the coming weeks whether to provide FY13 funding for the inaugural event this summer. With the projection of attracting 10,000 visitors to Loudoun, supervisors agreed it was a good use of restricted Transient Occupancy Tax revenue, which state law required to be used to support tourism activities and the hotel industry.