Festival of Flavors

An icy glass of amber ale or flute of sparkling wine is art that’s more than just lovely to see. Paired with small plates of prize cuisine, these hand-crafted creations become a delectable experience. // Photography by Michael Buck
Food and Wine

Come November, the sixth annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival unites artisans of wine, craft beer, spirits, hard ciders and food owners under one roof to comprise the Midwest’s largest culinary event.  Some of Grand Rapids’ finest restaurants will be featured, as well as an array of wines and spirits from across the state, country and world.

“This event as a whole just continues to be talked about and well-received,” said Showspan organizer Dawn Baker, who has tallied a steady 20 percent growth in attendance each year.

Attendees will find complimentary seminars showcasing wine, beer and spirits, as well as workshops and demonstrations, included with their $15-$20 admission ticket.

Located on the main floor, “The Vineyard” will feature 30 Michigan wineries showcasing some 1,200 different wines.

“We expand our presence every year,” said Don Coe, a managing partner at Black Star Farms in Suttons Bay. This year, the winery is manning two booths, one for wine and spirits and another to spotlight dessert wines.

Robinette's Family

“At this event you can meet the winemakers, owners or tasting room managers noted Coe. “It’s an opportunity to learn more about the wines, the winery and its nearby attractions.”

Regional dining venues will also be partnering with Michigan wineries as they prepare, present and serve multi-course meals.  These casual settings invite talking directly with the chefs, as well.

“One of the things we do that is unique to the festival is wine pairings,” said Cindy Schneider, general manager of San Chez Bistro in downtown Grand Rapids. “We sell out pretty quickly.”

Attendees sit at high tables while listening to the chef as he prepares and cooks their cuisine, which is paired with a variety of Spanish wines. Guests can ask questions of attending wine representatives.

“Grand Rapids has embraced this festival with open arms, ” Schneider said. “It’s really fun.”

Hard Ciders & Craft Brews, Too

The Robinette family (above) has been pressing fresh cider for five generations at their farm just northeast of Grand Rapids. In the last eight years they’ve branched into brewing wine and hard cider, as well.

They will be one of at least a dozen cider brewers set up in the show’s brand-new Cider House, sponsored by Michigan BLUE Magazine. “Hard cider is a hot, growing trend that’s really exciting,” said Baker, “and we’re thrilled to have a designated place for it this year.”

Bill Robinette, the family’s winemaker, agreed.

“For us, it’s a local product, and people love that,” he said. The Robinettes brew different ciders including dry, sweet and an apple-cherry flavor.

Michigan ranks fifth nationwide in number of breweries, microbreweries and brewpubs, and for the second year in a row, Grand Rapids has been hailed “Beer City USA 2013” by the annual online Beer City USA poll.

Hopcat GR

More than a dozen craft breweries have set up house in the metro region and downtown, where  brews like Devil Dancer, Naughty Nicodemus and Triomphe can be sipped. Grand Rapids has also been named one of the top 10 Best Vacation Cities for Beer Lovers by Yahoo!Travel, while Ratebeer.com has designated GR’s Hopcat (center) the top brewpub in the nation and named Founder’s Brewing Company the third best brewery worldwide.

To better showcase the state’s burgeoning craft beer offerings, Baker noted that more than 35 booths featuring domestic and Michigan artisan brews, along with several restaurants, will be showcased in the new “Brewers Loft.” An American craft brewer is small, independent and traditional, and when visitors step into the Brewers Loft, they’ll be able to meet these crafters as well as sample dozens of their full-flavored creations. Included among these new additions to the Loft will be both food and beer offerings from New Holland Brewing Company, a regional craft brewery and craft distillery based in Holland.

“(The Festival) has become a ‘must attend’ event,” Baker noted, “and attendees look forward to and appreciate that there is something new each year, from seminar speakers brought in from around the country to special feature areas.”

All new food demonstrations that feature chefs and food specialists presenting topics such as sushi, oils, balsamic vinegar and cake design are on the roster again this year. Looking for holiday entertaining tips? Experts will present the latest trends and techniques in preparation, plating, flavors and more on the Meijer Food Stage.

Connoisseurs and novices alike can also gather at tutored seminars showcasing wine, beer and spirits from specialized countries and regions, while the Riverfront Market, as always, will offer plenty of gourmet foods, and finds.

The Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival takes place at DeVos Place Thursday, Nov. 21, 5-10 pm; Friday, Nov. 22, 4-10 pm; and Saturday, Nov. 23, noon – 10 pm.

For more details, grwinefestival.com.

Freelance writer Cymbre Foster resides in the Greater Grand Traverse region.

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