Notes from Valley Forge fest of food and wine (spirits too)

Their claim was plain: This year’s Festival showcases the finest in wine, spirits and gourmet foods…

OK, then. Count me in.

Following are observations from the Philadelphia Taste Festival of Food Wine and Spirits at the Valley Forge Convention Center.

I parked at the Radisson and made my way inside. It was the third and final day of the event and I arrived about two hours before it wrapped up. Signs in the lobby directed me through a network of hallways and stairwells toward the convention center. If you haven’t visited, the building has a sagging, fatigued spirit – with peeling wallpaper, Seventies décor and dim light fixtures – and it sprawls quite a distance from the hotel’s entrance. Minutes passed as I ambled along the drab carpet, and a thought occurred to me: Finding Hitler’s bunker might have been easier.

The low-end convention room was teeming with people. It was a shocking throng. Long lines, the din of drinkers. A mixed crowd. Several middle aged couples brushed past, mothers with babies too, but the youth factor was noticeable.

A hangover crowd. In fact, some may have rolled in directly from last night’s cavorting. Here’s a snapshot: Shiny green Mardi Gras beads hung from necks. Uggs, high heels, club boots, club boots covered in fur, Uggs covered in fur and sneakers. Backward baseball caps, football jerseys.

The wine selection was limited and the queues were long. A small collection of vineyards – Chaddsford, Firestone, J Lohr, Pacific Rim, Penns Woods, Sebastiani, Yellowtail (including a Reserve) – were augmented by an uninspired PLCB selection. Girls in shimmery black dresses poured hard stuff including something called Three Olives Dude, a Mountain Dew-flavored vodka.

A spacious Robert Mondavi (a major sponsor) booth stood front and center, clearly intent on domination.

Attendees who weren’t taking a pour hovered at food stations and packed away small portions of pasta, cheese, bread and chocolate. Hand to mouth. Hand to mouth. Hand to mouth. Others crowded around to have a picture taken with a friendly-looking Alaska crab fisherman and a large, plastic crustacean.

As-seen-on-TV sales guys wearing headset microphones sold products at all points – cleaning products, hot sauce, Vitamix blenders, wine accessories. An infomercial vibe.

Some exhibitors, like Pinot Boutique, offered appreciation sessions for the wine-curious, and the speaking schedule was dotted with notable speakers and chefs.

The LCB on-site store offered selections of the above-mentioned bottles, plus a chocolate milk blended wine.

I’d seen enough. Time to retreat from the tired building. Nearing the Festival exit, I spied the Wine Slushy booth. Yeah, my work was done.

As I drove out of the parking lot, a large sign glared down from the center’s façade. Coming in 2012: Valley Forge Casino Resort. A refurbished facility! A return of the Festival? Think of the possibilities.

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