FORT WAYNE – In his younger days, Keith Frank was a beer drinker. Give him a mug of something dark and frothy and he was a happy guy. Now in his 50s – having given up on beer, desserts and many of the cholesterol-heavy spoils of youth – Frank has become something of an accidental wine enthusiast.
Frank, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt and Panama hat, was one of more than 400 people who attended the Junior Achievement Wine and Beer Festival Saturday at Headwaters Park. Holding an empty glass, Frank spent the first few minutes of the festival wandering along the corridor of vendors, pondering the more than 50 choices in front of him. First up: a dry, red cabernet, he said.
You get older and begin to see the health benefits of drinking wine, he said. Who knows if it’s all true? But we’re going to ride that train as far as it goes. A day at a vineyard or an event like this is like a cheap mini-vacation. It’s great fun.
Despite gray skies and a threat of thunderstorms, wine lovers began pouring into the Headwaters Park – lugging their own camp chairs and picnic blankets – the moment the gates opened at 2 p.m.
Tickets for the event were $30 at the gate. Non-imbibers were offered a discount: $15 for designated drivers.
I never anticipated such a rush of people, Joni Dietsch, executive vice president of Junior Achievement, said. But a lot of these wines are not sold in retail locations, so it’s wonderful for or them to get exposure. I’d love for this event to help the industry grow.
While sampling drinks from nine Indiana wineries and three Hoosier breweries, participants were invited to sit on purple picnic blankets sprinkled throughout the west side of the park.
It’s not a formal event, Dietsch said. We wanted to keep a casual, picnic feel. This may be the first wine tasting for some people. We wanted to make sure it was fun and comfortable.
Carley Beasley appreciated the low-key atmosphere, but engaging in wine-tasting clichés – the sniffing, the swirling, the discussion of oakiness and bouquet – is part of the fun, she said.
You sniff, then you swirl, she said, laughing. Then you sniff again and taste it. There’s a lot of sniffing involved.
Beasley, who attended with her friends Ashley Seward, Ali Russell and Erin Wirges, said the real draw of the event is being able to spend time with friends.
We left the husbands at home to spend fun, quality time with the kids, she said, to a roar of laughter. Changing diapers.