Wrapping up the 'Saveur' Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival

Festival Wrap-Up

In reflecting on the 20th annual Saveur Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, I can report that I tasted some wonderful food, met some interesting people (see "Good Cuisine and an Interesting Scene"), and came away with some genuine concerns. The festival was founded as a nonprofit organization in the mid-Eighties to help establish a distinct viticultural appellation for the Texas Hill Country by promoting Central Texas' then fledgling wine industry. The appellation was established early on, but the festival has remained focused on that original mission, touting Texas wines and foods to the world at an annual spring event. A 2003 partnership with Saveur magazine has been instrumental in turning a fine regional wine and food celebration into a Texas-based party with a serious national profile. After going through three directors in as many years, the festival board entered into a production agreement with local promotion powerhouse Capital Sports & Entertainment for the 2005 festival. The result was a bigger, more professionally executed event that included a two-day tent extravaganza on the shores of Town Lake showcasing food, wine, music, and the natural beauty of our city. According to CSE spokesperson Autumn Rich, the Village at the Shores attracted more than 6,000 people during the course of two days. Though there were some definite glitches, the new component could be a successful addition to the overall festival lineup.

While I'll admit that outdoor events with big crowds, long lines, and plenty of traffic are of little interest to me personally, I'm convinced that CSE would be as quick to make positive adjustments to the Shores event as they've been with their megahit Austin City Limits Festival. And the truth is, I heard every bit as many positive comments about the Shores outing as I did complaints. My concern, however, is how CSE will balance the need for bigger, more profitable event components against the nonprofit festival's established tradition of promoting Texas wines and foods with more intimate offerings? For example, two previously popular Saturday events were moved to make way for the Shores schedule, and both the winemaker luncheons at downtown restaurants and the Home on the Range cookout at the TDS Exotic Game Ranch suffered some loss of attendance as a result. It appears many local participants chose not to fight the drive-time traffic to reach the TDS facility late Thursday afternoon and opted not to attend some of the two-hour wine luncheons on Friday when faced with the prospect of going back to work. It would be a shame to see the festival become so big and generic in its pursuit of profits that it sacrifices smaller events that provide an in-depth focus on the authentic regional culture and cuisine of the Texas Hill Country in the process.

Incoming festival President Harvey Giblin, director of the Texas Culinary Academy, assured me after the festival that remaining true to the original mission is one of the board's highest priorities. Giblin says they plan an extensive debriefing and deconstruction of each 2005 festival component before voting on whether or not to renew the production agreement with CSE. It will be interesting to see how things play out, and we'll keep you posted.

Event Menu: April 21-28

• The first Buffalo Gap Wine & Food Summit is scheduled this weekend at the Perini Ranch Steakhouse ( in the West Texas hamlet of Buffalo Gap. Renowned cowboy cook Tom Perini will share cooking duties with Texas chefs Jeff Blank, Matt Martinez Jr., Grady Spears, Michael Thomson, Paula Lambert, and Pam Goble, while both Texas and California vintners will be on hand pouring their best vintages. Chronicle wine columnist Wes Marshall will moderate a Texas/California taste-off, and there will be food and wine pairing seminars in addition to an outdoor dinner and dance. For more information or to make reservations, call 800/367-1721; Friday-Sunday, April 22-24.

• The terroir, or physical and environmental characteristics of Central Texas vineyards, is the subject of the 2005 Austin Geological Society Wine Field Trip. Dr. Pete Rose will lead the bus tour with stops at Becker Vineyards, Bell Mountain Vineyards, and Fall Creek Vineyards. Guests will receive an updated version of the AGS publication The Hill Country Appellation, as well as wine samples and a luncheon catered by In Good Taste Catering. Tour cost is $80, and reservations are necessary. Call Craig Caldwell at 502-0434 or go to; 9am, Saturday, April 23.

• Join in the World's Largest Ice Cream Social at your favorite Cold Stone Creamery location to benefit the Make-a-Wish Foundation. Guests are encouraged to make a donation in return for a slice of a special custom ice cream cake designed by a 12-year-old Make-a-Wish child in the Boston area; 3-5pm, Monday, April 25.

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