Wine Fest draws 17,500 despite rainy conditions

Muddy conditions makes for memorable affair

By Joel Charron

It was only a matter of time before Mother Nature caught up with the organizers of the 7th Annual Shores of Erie  (SOE) International Wine Festival.

After years of near perfect weather during the four-day festival featuring Essex County wineries, rain transformed the

Volunteers did their best to make the grounds as walkable as possible by spreading mulch in problem areas.

Fort Malden Historical Park ground into a giant mud pit.

However despite the consistent rain over two and a half days, that didn’t stop 17, 500 people from stomping through the mud and attending one of Essex County’s premier events.

“Everyone came with smiles on their face and boots on their feet and had a great time,” said festival administrator Kelly O’Rourke.

The festival kicked on Thursday night with the rain subsiding long enough for Michou, Pat Robitaille Band and Sam Roberts Band to rock the crowd and set the tone for the weekend.

“We were really lucky that the rain stopped when the bands began to play,” said O’Rourke.

The rain continued into Friday, where the on and off again weather played havoc on the grounds. Volunteers worked frantically to help remedy the problem by applying mounds of mulch to the problem area. O’Rourke said a lot of the mulch came from the town.

“We did our best with the grounds, mostly in the parade grounds because that is where we knew the crowd would be,” she said. “We couldn’t have done  without the town. Without their help there would have been no way we could have opened up.”

However heavy rains continued into Saturday morning, stopping around noon that same day. O’Rourke admits organizers seriously considered canceling Saturday night events.

“There was wavering as the rain was pouring down and the mud was getting thicker,” she said. “We met and saw there was going to be a break in the forecast and made the decision to go on.”

Not wanting to ruin their footwear from the sludge, attendees created a fashion trend that made it’s mark on this year’s edition of the Wine Festival: rubber boots.

“You have to love the different colours and styles (of rubber boots) that people are wearing,” said Windsor resident, Donna Major, who was donning a pair of red plaid boots.

As of Saturday afternoon, Amherstburg retail stores had been cleared up of their rubber boot stock. Some residents had to go as far as Essex to find a pair.

For those who weren’t lucky enough to find the trend setting footwear opted to go barefoot.

“It’s a lot better than ruining my shoes,” said Melanie Bertrand, 24. “It’s not that bad. The mud feels pretty good between my toes.”

Eadie Mastronardi, proprietor of Mastronardi Estate Winery said she wasn’t surprised to see all the people brave the elements to enjoy the Wine Fest.

“It’s been a little wet and muddy but no body seems to care,” she said. ‘It’s all about goulashes and great wine.”

Mastronardi said the winery goes through an estimated 200 cases of wine during the weekend.  She added that the number is so high because they sell the popular drink, Sangria.

“We probably go through 80-90 cases of Sangria alone,” she said.

Mastronardi said that they have just as much fun as the people who they are selling the wine to.

“You meet all sorts of characters here,” she joked. “People just want to come out and enjoy the amazing atmosphere and make memories. You can’t help but put a smile on your face and join in on the fun.”

Festival chair person Karen Gyorgy praised the work of the 13 committee members and the over 450 volunteers that worked this past weekend.

“If it wasn’t for the hard work of our committee and the tireless work of all our volunteers, we wouldn’t have been able to continue,” she said. “It was because of them the Wine Fest moved forward.”

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