Wednesday September 19, 2012

WILMINGTON -- Business owners and Green Mountain artisans are hopeful the return of the fifth annual Vermont Life Wine and Harvest Festival will bring a new wave of consumers and visitors to the Deerfield Valley.

A year ago the event, held in large part at Mount Snow, was canceled after flood waters from Tropical Storm Irene left the communities devastated and hundreds of homes and businesses destroyed.

For those that survived, owners experienced one of the worst foliage seasons in recent memory as numerous roads were impassable and so much work was needed to help others rebuild.

Mount Snow Valley Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Adam Grinold said this year’s wine event, scheduled to kick off on Sept. 21 in downtown Wilmington, could provide an enormous economic boost to the area.

Initial estimates are between 2,000 and 2,400 people will attend various parts of the three-day festival.

"An event like this can have a tremendous impact on the valley," he said. "People typically spend roughly $67 per person to buy gas, food, lodging and other items."

With more than 70 vendors already booked and the hundreds of first-time visitors to southeastern Vermont, the wine and harvest festival could have long-lasting economic benefits.

Another boost is also coming from the state in the form of a $25,000 grant to support tourism in the Deerfield Valley.
"This may be the first time federal or state assistance is available to business owners in Dover specifically," Grinold said.


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"Although their buildings may have avoided damage, they still lost out on 90 percent of their business during last fall."

For towns like Dover, Halifax, Wilmington and Whitingham, whose businesses depend heavily on tourism, Grinold said last year was "dire" for many owners as visitors couldn’t get to many of the town’s restaurants, lodgings and retail stores.

During the fall foliage season tens of thousands of people typically drive along Routes 9 and 100 stopping to see the changes in the leaves, the reds, oranges, and yellows from the millions of sugar maples, yellow birches and beech trees.

Grinold said the effects of the tropical storm are still being felt as people try to rebuild their businesses. Now that many of the storefronts are filled again, Grinold and other organizers say events like the festival will bring new people to the valley.

"It provides a reason for our second-home owners to come up for a visit when they might not otherwise, and also invite their friends," he said.

The event has garnered a lot of attention in its five years, earning a designation as one of the Top 10 fall events listed by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.

Steve Cook, deputy commissioner of Vermont tourism and marketing, said he’s been to numerous wine festivals throughout New England and few compare.

"I can tell you that the setting at Mount Snow is unlike any others I’ve seen," Cook said. "Wine tasting events are usually held in beautiful locations, but at Mount Snow, there’s not only the festival, but easy access to outdoor recreation, historic sites, the arts and beautiful Vermont villages right in the same place."

On the night of Friday Sept. 21, Vermont wine and cheese tastings will begin during the village stroll in Wilmington with live music and a soup contest.

Tastings are $7 per person and access to the soup contest is free.

Events throughout the weekend include wine parings at the Matterhorn Inn and the Dover Forge on Saturday, cooking demonstrations from the Junior Iron Chefs and a celebrity guest chef, Kevin Cottle, the runner-up in season six of Hell’s Kitchen.

Passes for the various events at Mount Snow on Sept. 22 and Sept. 23 are $12 per-person or $20 for a two-day pass.

For a full list of events or more information visit www.thevermontfestival.com

Josh Stilts can be reached at jstilts@reformer.com, or 802-254-2311 ext. 273.