A Taste of the Stars
Festival at Sandpoint's wine tasting becomes largest outdoor event in region
In some ways, it was a new beginning back in 1999 for the Festival at Sandpoint. Just a few years past what a concert-goer described in an issue of Sandpoint Magazine as a “crash and burn season,” a major goal for the summer music festival on the shores of the Pend Oreille River was to make a profit, and the symphony was a focus. Although the Festival got its star because of a desire to bring symphonic music to the area, symphony concerts are expensive; following the ‘98 season, the Festival had announced it was cutting ties with Conductor Gunther Schuller and closing the doors on its Schweitzer Music Institute in order to tighten its belt, and make sure the organization never again went so far into the hole its future was in jeopardy. At the same time, there was still a strong commitment to symphonic music and the need to pay for it. And that’s when Jack Eaves, who owned Wine Sellers by the Lake and WinoWorld.com, stepped in with an idea for a fundraiser: a wine tasting included in the price of a symphony ticket.
Fifteen years later, the Taste of the Stars wine tasting is an integral part of the Festival’s traditional symphony finale and has grown, in fact, to become the largest, one-day wine tasting event not just in Idaho, but also in the Inland Northwest. (Savor Idaho, which takes place in Boise in June, is the next largest wine tasting, serving 900 people. The Festival’s wine tasting, by comparison, serves 2,000 or more people.) Whether your tastes run to tasting a little wine before enjoying the artistry of the Spokane Symphony, or whether your preference is a wine tasting with a symphonic chaser, this is the concert for you.
“People pay good money to go to wine tastings,” explained Rob Carlson, a Festival volunteer who currently, with Festival Board Member Mark Berryhill, is responsible for putting the event together. “Here, we have over 38 wineries in one place where they can enjoy sampling a variety of wines, all included in the price of their symphony ticket. This is a gigantic bargain.”
Not to mention the complimentary glass, which for the past few years has been provided by the Idaho Wine Commission.
You didn’t know there was an Idaho Wine Commission? If not, then you likely don’t know that Idaho is actually a hot, up-and-coming wine producing region for the United States, which itself only really became successful in wine making back in the 1970s. Idaho’s growing presence in that now financially successful U.S. wine market has a simple explanation, at least according to IdahoWines.org: “Great wines begin with great soil,” they say, and the rich, volcanic soils of Idaho are excellent for growing wine grapes.
“I’ll go out on a limb here, and say the next biggest wine region is going to be down in the Snake River valley,” said Berryhill. “And that means our wine tasting event is only going to get bigger and better.”
Not much bigger, however. Currently, the event attracts over 38 wineries serving over 100 different types of wine—there simply isn’t space for it to get a lot larger. That doesn’t stop the Carlson/Berryhill duo from putting in a lot of hours, however, to keep adding to the experience.
“This year we’re planning on doing a table with some Old World wines,” Berryhill said. “Our focus has been on American wines, but now we want to add the opportunity for people to experience wines from Italy, France, and Spain. We’re not only going to be the biggest area wine tasting, we’re going to become the area’s biggest international wine tasting,” he laughed.
And of course, nowhere is such a magnificent wine tasting followed by an event as spectacular as the Spokane Symphony performing under the stars of a hot August night, followed by fireworks.
Turning serious, Berryhill remarked, “We’re all committed to bringing the symphony to our community, but it’s expensive. For many years, it’s been the most costly concert we put on. We’re proud that this event supports that goal, and thrilled if it attracts someone to the symphony who might not otherwise have come.” Over the years, the symphony concert has grown from a somewhat sparsely attended evening to very near sell-out status (around 2,200 people). While the wine tasting may not be responsible for all that growth, it certainly doesn’t hurt.
This year’s concert, Fan Fare, is based on favorite performances from the first Festival seasons of music, and features Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte, Tchaikowsky’s Piano Concerto No.2, the last movement of Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1, and Beethoven’s Symphony No.7. Conducted by Maestro Gary Sheldon, the evening also features two guest soloists, pianist Francisco Renno, and Sandpoint’s own violinist Jason Moody. Tickets for the show, which include the wine tasting, are $36.95 adults/$10.95 for youth up to age 18. You must, of course, be age 21 to participate in the wine tasting, which begins at 4:30 pm when the gates open.
“Wine tasting is a growing hobby for a lot of people,” said Carlson. While wine has been appreciated and enjoyed throughout the world for thousands of years, “people are surprised to discover the huge varieties in the taste of all the different wines available.” A given wine’s taste is determined not just by the grapes used and the process of wine making chosen, but also by the soil those grapes are grown in. Which means each region has a distinctive flavor to experience.
If you haven’t yet enjoyed that experience, now’s your chance. Call the Festival at Sandpoint at 208-265-4554 to order your tickets, or purchase online at FestivalatSandpoint.com.