On January 17th, my friend Christy Sherard and I headed down to the Mohegan Sun Casino and Resort Complex in Uncasville, CT for the Sun Winefest. In addition to more than 200 wineries, the event also featured celebrity chef demonstrations, special wine seminars, a separate exhibit area featuring beers and craft ales, and food from a variety of local restaurants.
The majority of the events were held in Mohegan Sun’s large convention center. Situated in the heart of the casino, the convention center is a two-story space with a large entrance/reception area and main ballroom on the first floor which housed the Grand Tasting and Celebrity Chef demonstrations, and on the second floor a series of meeting rooms housing the beers and craft ales.
The event ran from 12-5 on both Saturday and Sunday, and according to one vendor we spoke to, “when the doors opened at 12:00 on Saturday, you just saw this wall of people stream into the Grand Tasting room.” In other words, the place was packed!
Our first stop of the day was the Frescobaldi Crus wine seminar (check back with Vino Verve on 1.31 for seminar details), and then we headed into the Grand Tasting about 1:30. We stopped in the main reception area long enough to pick up glasses and program guides before heading straight into the fray.
On the far right of the room, a large stage was set up for the celebrity chef demonstrations and people were beginning to gather and find seats for the Jacques Torres’ Chocolate demonstration. The rest of the room was set up with rows of tables and booths featuring the participating wineries and distributors, and as we were there for the wines, we bypassed the chef stage, and headed straight over to the tables. Along the back wall was the food section, featuring local restaurants offering sandwiches and finger foods which you could purchase for a small fee.
Making your way through the crowds in these events is always a challenge, particularly as the day progresses and people become increasingly tipsy. Wine expos are not for the faint of heart; you need to politely but firmly navigate your way through the crowds and up to the tables – otherwise, you’ll find you spend a lot of time staring at people’s backs as they sample the wines.
Having now been to a few wine expos, I can also recommend going in with a game plan; Christy and I were there to discover new wines, so we approached the room with a few rules:
- We avoided tables featuring wines we were already familiar with, such as the Gallo wines, YellowTail, Barefoot Cellars, etc.,
- We looked for distributors that featured wines of specific regions (South Africa, Spain) so we could sample several different wineries at a single table, and
- We stopped at any winery whose name caught our attention (2 Friends, for example) or whose labels caught our eye.
All in all it worked really well – and helped us focus our time and energy on getting the most out of the afternoon. We also found it helped to take a short break about 1/2 way through the afternoon. Stepping out of the crush in the convention area and just walking around the casino and shops for 10-15 minutes gave us a chance to get a breath of fresh air before heading back into the fray.
A very fun and successful day – and best of all we came home with the names of several new wines we plan on picking up in the future.
Next up: highlights from some of our “new” wines!