Bottling vacation

Wine festival lures guests from afar

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The Steamboat Wine Festival proved to be a noteworthy vintage for first-year tourism events.

Organizers said they sold 1,200 tickets to the festival's two main events. About 80 percent of the tickets were sold to people visiting Steamboat Springs.

"We planned for 1,000 people and exceeded that," Jason Ornstein of Team Sage productions said. "We had 500 people for the Wine on the Mountain Grand Tasting Friday night and 700 for the Toast of Steamboat on Saturday."

Longtime wine wholesaler Glenn Wiedemer of National Distributors said he has been a presenter at more wine festivals than he can recall, and Steamboat's stood out.

"For a first-year event, this was unbelievably successful," Wiedemer said. "All of the seminars were either full or oversold. It means people are hungry for knowledge, and they're willing to step up and pay a price."

The wine festival seemed to complement the 2-year-old Beaux Arts Festival the way a spicy zinfandel complements steak au poivre.

Nancy Kramer, executive director of the Steamboat Springs Arts Council, said an auction associated with the wine event raised $7,000 for her organization. The Arts Council kicked off the Beaux Arts Festival in 2003 to build on the area's cultural tourism.

Kramer said overlaying the two events created a great partnership.

"Based on this success, we obviously

have the ability to start to leverage some more business coming to town," Kramer said. "Next year, I think it can grow in terms of design and aesthetics, as well as in size."

The wine festival was such a success that the organizers ran out of the commemorative wine glasses promised to everyone who purchased a ticket for the main events.

"Unequivocally, that won't happen again," Ornstein said. There were other rough spots in the festival, but Ornstein and partner Doug Larson said they received more than enough encouragement to ensure the wine festival will return, probably on a larger scale, next summer.

The wine festival came about after Ornstein and Larson approached the Steamboat Springs Chamber Resort Association on behalf of their company, Team Sage, and asked whether there would be interest in the event.

Team Sage, with offices in Fort Collins and Denver, specializes in creating and managing events, from food and arts festivals to urban adventure races. The company previously hosted events in which wine tasting was a component but had never promoted a wine festival before.

"Our business had been researching wine festival for four years," Ornstein said. "When Doug stumbled on the fact that Steamboat didn't have one, I couldn't believe him."

Team Sage visited a number of festivals to see how they were succeeding and modeled the Steamboat event after a wine festival in Telluride. Because Steamboat is easier for Front Range residents to reach, it has an advantage over the resort in the San Juan Mountains.

Chamber Public Relations Director Riley Polumbus said that when Team Sage first pitched the wine festival to her organization, chamber officials saw it as a "satisfier" that would enhance visitors' experience in Steamboat once they got here, rather than a "motivator" that would trigger a decision to visit. The chamber gave the organizers $5,000 from a pot of money dedicated to helping first-time events get off the ground.

Ornstein said the budget to produce the festival was about $50,000 and depended heavily on both hard and soft sponsor dollars from local sponsors.

Among the sponsors were the Steamboat Ski and Resort Corp., the Steamboat Grand Resort Hotel, Sleeping Giant Insurance, First National Bank of Steamboat Springs and Wells Fargo Bank.

Team Sage owns the event.

"If the event makes money, we make money," Ornstein said. "We have a three-year window," for gauging the viability of new events.

"The first year we usually just try to take care of our sponsors and make sure they are happy. We probably made a little money," on the first Steamboat Wine Festival.

Polumbus said the wine festival took place at the same time Beaux Arts was hosting cultural events and Strings in the Mountains was nearing the climax of its music festival. While it could be perceived that the three organizations were in competition with one another, the convergence represents a win for visitors. The availability of choices enriches a vacation, she said.

"It just builds on that long weekend," Polumbus said. "We're all after the same thing -- enhancing our cultural tourism market."

The fact that the cultural weekend was successful in the midst of a major Triple Crown youth baseball weekend means area merchants enjoyed the benefits of having visitors representing different demographics and different spending habits in town at the same time.

"It shows there is room for a number of different events," Polumbus said. "It helps build success for more kinds of businesses."

Kramer said she anticipates that in advance of next year's Beaux Arts/Wine Festival weekend, organizers will explore whether spreading more events out over a slightly larger area at the base of the ski slopes can be successful.

Wiedemer said he thinks Steamboat is becoming increasingly sophisticated in its wine tastes, and the festival can continue to grow.

"Our market is evolving," Wiedemer said. "It used to be chardonnay, cabernet and merlot. Now we have customers seeking out more obscure varietals and we have more excellent restaurants with extensive wine lists. They are working to educate their customers."

-- To reach Tom Ross call 871-4205

or e-mail tross@steamboatpilot.com

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