Kick off the holiday season at the 2012 Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival

The Fifth Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival is taking place now through November 10th in the Steelcase Ballroom inside DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids. We spoke with Show Producer Henri Boucher to get some details on this exciting, annual pre-holiday event.

Q: Can you tell us about the festival?

A: Drawing more than 12,000 people, it is the largest culinary event in the state and one of the premiere festivals of its kind in the Midwest. Catering to both the connoisseur who lives and breathes for the finer things in life to the novice looking for an introduction to the world of wine, food and other culinary delights, this festival delivers a grand experience that is sure to please every palette.

Q: How did the festival get its start?

A: It was Rich Mackeigan, Executive Director of DeVos Place and Van Andel Arena, who drove the research and asked ShowSpan to partner with the Convention & Arena Authority to create this event, modeled after an event in Rich’s first building in Ottawa, Canada. I went with the research group to Ottawa and came back saying:  “if we do this, it will be the largest food and wine show in the Midwest…,” and it is.

Q: What’s new this year?

A: Expanded beer selection, new restaurants and pairings, more seminars….we are busting at the seams. Big year for hard cider. Cordial and chocolate pairings. Seminars on sushi rolling, olive oil tasting, pairing champagne and potato chips.

Michigan's own Larry Mawby has been with the Grand Rapids Wine, Beer & Food Festival since its first year, serving up his award-winning sparkling wines.

Q: How many wineries participate?

A: More than 100 wineries from around the world provide samples of as many as 1,200 assorted wines – including some hard to find, top shelf vintages. Brewmasters and distillers are also on hand, providing tastes of their hand-crafted beverages.

Chefs from the area’s top restaurants prepare and serve small plates of their culinary specialties.

Select restaurants partner with distinguished wineries and breweries for special pairings – gourmet multicourse meals served on-site in a casual yet intimate “bar top” setting. Tickets are $35-$45 each (in addition to show admission) and may be purchased in advance online or at the Festival on a first-come, first-served basis.

Esteemed individuals from the culinary world host seminars, demonstrations and workshops on the Meijer Food Stage. Free beverage seminars, held classroom style in the breakout rooms off the Grand Gallery, give festival-goers a more in-depth look into the world of wine, beer and spirits.

Complimentary cooking seminars and demonstrations are presented on the Meijer Food Stage, where experts share the latest in food preparation, plating, variety and flavors.

Guests can also get a jump on their holiday shopping at the Riverfront Marketplace, where gourmet specialty items and unique accessories will be available for purchase.

Q: Where do attendees come from – mostly western Michigan, or all over the state? Do you get many out of state visitors?

A: Mostly people come from throughout the state of Michigan. We have a few bus groups that come in from the east side of the state. We’ve had some nice media coverage in Chicago this year, so we’re hoping that generates some interest from the Windy City.

Q: The festival is huge and it can be daunting for first-time attendees to decide where to start. What do you recommend is the best way for people to navigate the show so they can take advantage of all of the offerings?

The Fifth Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival is expected to draw more than 14,000 individuals throughout the three days – making it the largest food and wine festival in the state and one of the premiere events of its kind in the Midwest.

A: We’ve laid out the show program a bit differently this year, so if you are drawn to a specific type of wine (i.e., Pinot Grigio or Riesling) you can search by varietal and find all the wines in that category. You can cross reference also with the winery (or brewery or distillery itself as well). The show floor is “anchored” by the Michigan Wine Section (on the north end of the hall) and the Michigan Craft Beer Hall (to the south). That’s where I’d recommend you start!

Q: Anything you’d recommend as a must-do activity?

A: Sushi rolling with Chef Angus of the Secchia Institute for Culinary Education; the restaurant pairings make great “date night” experiences. On Saturday, there are two champagne flight tastings which will be amazing. There’s really something for everyone, so no matter who is in the group (21+) everyone should have a good time!

Q: How does the show benefit Grand Rapids/Michigan from an economic standpoint?

A: Not only does this show bring in all the exhibitors to Grand Rapids/West Michigan, but it draws 14,000 attendees. Many find their way to area restaurants, bars and clubs after the show lets out each night at 10pm (and certainly the exhibitors do as well…the festival just whets their appetite for more great cuisine and GR has some of the best in the state). Of course, plenty of hotel rooms are booked by exhibitors but also by show attendees who want to increase their festival experience at one of the downtown hotels like the Amway Grand, JW Marriott, Courtyard, City Flats and Holiday Inn. The demographics on the festival attendees include many who recognize the entertainment value of the culinary scene as well.

Q: What does Pure Michigan mean to you?

A: Pure Michigan is a celebration of the sights, sounds and tastes of the region – along with amazing people, places and products!

Show tickets are $15; tasting tickets are $0.50 each. For more information on the event, visit GRWineFestival.com or call 800-328-6550. For tickets, visit here. Follow the festival on Facebook: Facebook.com/GRWineFestival and Twitter: Twitter.com/GRWineFestival. Will you be (or have you) checked out the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival? Let us know if the comments below!

Henri Boucher is Vice President and Show Producer at ShowSpan Inc., a Grand Rapids company with more than 65 years of show history in the state of Michigan. Since joining ShowSpan in 1989, Henri has helped take the number of consumer shows and exhibitions produced by the company from six to 15, including Outdoorama, the Michigan International Auto Show and the Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival. He enjoys fishing, boating and spending time with his family and friends at his summer cottage in Northwest Michigan.

Gear Up for Spring and Summer in Pure Michigan

With the weather getting warmer by the day, it’s time to stock up on spring and summer essentials that will keep you feeling (and looking!) cool all season.

From outerwear to home goods and collectibles, the Pure Michigan Store offers a variety of items to help prepare you for warmer months. Here are a few of our favorites.

Pure Michigan Bike Bottle:
Stay hydrated on spring and summer bike rides with the Pure Michigan Bike Bottle. And since the bottle is reusable, it can take you from the bike trails to the pool to the grocery store – it’s an essential for long days on the go.

Pure Michigan Seasonal Blend T-Shirt:
Brighten up your t-shirt collection with this Pure Michigan Seasonal Blend T-Shirt. The variant color grading makes this shirt fun and unique for any season, and the crisp look and feel make it a staple for sunny days.

Pure Michigan Grill Cover:
This Pure Michigan Grill Cover is proudly Made in Michigan using the finest commercial grade outdoor vinyl. The cover, available in two sizes, will keep your grill in pristine shape while letting you show your state pride to guests and neighbors.

Pure Michigan Dog Leash:
Don’t forget about your pooch, who will be ready for more walks outside! The Pure Michigan Medium Mutt Dog Leash (also available to fit “big wolves”), made of 100% nylon webbing for prolonged use, will keep your pet looking stylish all season long.

Pure Michigan Wine Glasses:
Spring and summer is the perfect time for sitting outside and sipping on your beverage of choice. Wine lovers should check out the Pure Michigan Set of 17 oz. Stemless White Wine Glass (also available for red wine), which are great for enjoying any Michigan wine.

Warm Up With Winter Wine Tasting

As winter comes to an end in Michigan, it’s the perfect time to enjoy wine tasting on one of the last cold days of the year. Today, Trisha Verma, co-founder of Drink Michigan, shares some tips on winter wine tasting.

Whether you’re exploring Old Mission peninsula or hanging out in southwest Michigan, wine tasting is a great way to spend a cold winter afternoon. The tasting rooms are less crowded, there are many labels to choose from, and you often get extra attention from the tasting room manager, allowing you to ask questions and learn more about the wine, winery, and the region.

There are a couple things to keep in mind when you’re winter wine tasting:

  • Make sure your designated driver can handle the snow – the hills and winding roads of Michigan’s wine trails are part of what makes the experience so beautiful. But in the winter, they can cause quite a headache as you’re trying to make your way from winery to winery. You know you need a designated driver when you wine taste, but be sure that driver is an experienced winter driver. Even if it isn’t snowing, the dirt roads can be slick, and getting up those hills (and controlling yourself going down them) can be tricky.
  • Dress appropriately – be sure to dress for the weather and the environment. Many wineries don’t have paved parking and sidewalks, so boots are a good idea. You also want to make sure to bring hats and gloves – you never know when that lake-effect snow machine is going to kick in!

One of the best parts of tasting in the winter is all the variety that’s often in stock. This is the time to be adventurous and expand your palate. Talk to the tasting room manager, and let them guide you in experimenting with new varietals.  A lot of the wines we’ve discovered as our favorites over the last few years have been things we never would have tried if we had stuck to what we thought we liked.

Here are a few of our favorite winter wines:

    With just a few weeks left before the masses storm the tasting rooms for spring releases, now is the perfect time to strap on your boots and go exploring on the Michigan wine trails. Be adventurous, and make sure you have a little extra money on you to buy a few bottles of your favorites. Many of the wineries don’t have state-wide distribution, so the tasting rooms are often the only place to get your hands on a bottle – don’t miss out on your chance to take some home!

Have any questions about wine tasting in the winter (or any other season), or want to share your favorite Michigan wines? Leave a comment, and let me know!

Trisha Verma is a passionate Michigander and the co-founder of Drink Michigan – a site dedicated to promoting and celebrating Michigan-made beer, wine, and spirits. Drink Michigan holds events to introduce others to Michigan products, travels across the state to try new and interesting offerings, and is always looking for new ways to incorporate Michigan beer, wine, and liquor into interesting recipes.