An excellently executed excursion offers experiences to stimulate the senses, excite the emotions and reward the memory long after you've returned to reality. Part fantasy, but all fun.
If wine is part of that picture and extending your appreciation and knowledge of wine is your desire, why not hit the road or the friendly skies and spend your vacation at a wine festival?
In addition to our own New Orleans Wine & Food Experience, many locales both near and far present festivals in exciting settings where guests might want to linger an extra day or two to explore.
A few to consider are listed below with one or more nearly every month. Most benefit nonprofit organizations, so check to see which fee portions may be deductible. See how long it takes to find the one with the grape stomping championship and the grape spitting contest.
Aspen Food & Wine Classic, Aspen, Colorado
Culinary superstars like chefs Mario Batali, Thomas Keller, Jacques Pepin, Bobby Flay, Emeril Lagasse and others flock the mountains to be part of more than 80 food and wine seminars, including Screaming Eagle and 1982 Bordeaux reserve tastings. The grand tastings feature thousands of wines. The 2007 event is already sold out but it's not too early to think about 2008 (June 13-15). (303) 321-6551; www.foodandwine.com.
Southern Breeze Wine & Culinary Festival, Baton Rouge
This nearby festival features a grand tasting, winemaker dinners, visiting chefs, food seminars and a walkabout brunch. This is the sponsor's first foray into the Baton Rouge area. (800) 239-9880; www.coastalwinetour.com.
Kapalua Wine & Food Festival, Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
June 28-July 1
Master sommeliers and celebrity chefs convene in a tropical area not known for wine to participate in grand tastings, cooking expos, wine tours, winemaker dinners, a seafood festival, golf and tennis events. Think of it as a neutral ground for the Pinot Noir World Challenge. (877) 772-5425; www.kapalua.com/recreation.
Central Coast Wine Classic, Shell Beach, California
Spread along the Pacific coast, this event features a reserve grand tasting, winery dinners including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti La Tache and Hearst Castle, cooking demos, wine seminars and symposiums, silent and live rare wine auctions and barrel tastings. There's even a cycling classic to get the most out of the setting. (805) 544-1285; www.centralcoastwineclassic.org.
International Pinot Noir Festival, McMinnville, Oregon
Oregon is, of course, well positioned to host this Pinot Noir-focused festival. There are events, seminars, field trips, grand tastings al fresco, winery dinners, a northwest salmon bake and sparkling pink brunch. (800) 775-4762; www.ipnc.org.
Natchez Food & Wine Festival, Natchez, Mississippi
Wine events have spread throughout the region. This Natchez festival features tastings along the river, a wine and cheese tasting with Paul Burrell, winery dinners in antebellum homes, an after-hours chefs' party, a progressive lunch and home tour, British high tea and a cook-off. And given the summer heat, there are welcome events dedicated to Southern cocktails and brews on the bluff. (800) 647-6742; www.natchezfoodfest.com.
Hudson Valley Wine & Food Fest, Rhinebeck, New York
New York has many wineries and this festival highlights the state's many culinary treasures. There's a focus on wines from New York state, a grand reserve tasting, an art gallery gala and seminars. (845) 658-7181; www.hudsonvalleywinefest.com.
Santa Fe Wine & Chile Fiesta, Santa Fe, New Mexico
Santa Fe offers more than wine and chiles. It donated $20,000 of its 2006 proceeds to Louisiana Restaurant Relief from Hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The fiesta features wine and food pairing dinners, grand tastings, seminars and a wine auction. (505) 438-8060; www.santafewineandchile.org.
Harvest Fair Sonoma County, Santa Rosa, California
Situated in the heart of California wine country, it should come as no surprise the Harvest Fair offers tastings of more than 500 award-winning wines. There are also art receptions, seminars, food demos, a world championship grape stomp, a grape spitting contest, pumpkin tossing, kids' events and a 10K run. (707) 545-4203; www.harvestfair.org.
Southern Breeze Wine & Culinary Festival, Rosemary Beach, Florida
Enjoy grand tastings, winemaker dinners, visiting chefs, food seminars and a walkabout brunch. (800) 239-9880; www.coastalwinetour.com.
Seeing Red Wine Festival, Seaside, Florida
Fall is a great time for this event's al fresco evening reserve tasting. The event also features a grand tasting, wine dinners, luncheons, lectures and walkabout brunch. (850) 231-5424; www.seasidefl.com/seered.
Winter Wineland Weekend, Sonoma, California
January 19-20, 2008
Purchase a passport and visit wineries all over Sonoma County that will pour wines not normally available for tasting and offer special cuisine. (800) 723-6336; www.wineroad.com.
Boston Wine Expo, Boston, Massachusetts
February 9-10, 2008
The Boston Expo is the largest consumer and trade event in the U.S. There's a grand tasting, celebrity chefs, a grand cru wine lounge, seminars and vintner dinners. (877) 946-3976; www.wine-expos.com/boston.
South Beach Wine & Food Festival, Miami Beach, Florida
February 21-24, 2008
Dubbed "Decadence Decanted," the South Beach festival presents celebrity chefs, grand tastings, seminars, wine dinners, nightly after parties and a golf tournament. (877) 762-3933; www.sobewineandfoodfest.com.
Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival, Austin, Texas
April 10-13, 2008
Sip and stroll downtown Austin and enjoy wine dinners, a grand tasting, reserve wine tastings, luncheons, cooking classes, Texas wines and a night of Latin American cuisine and music at an exotic game ranch. (512) 249-6300; www.texaswineandfood.org.
Sandestin Wine Festival, Destin, Florida
This seaside festival includes celebrity winemakers, grand tastings, a retail wine tent, a beachfront wine party, wine dinners, winemakers walkabout, patron dinners at magnificent homes and a huge charity wine auction. (850) 267-8184; www.sandestinwinefestival.com.