Proctors winefest may be The Next Big Thing

William M. Dowd photos
(J Maxwell photo courtesy Fox.com)

Noted wine author Kevin Zraly speaks with a fan while autographing his books.

SCHENECTADY, NY -- We may have seen the start of a whopper of a wine festival today.

The event was the inaugural Capital Region Wine Festival at Proctors, a splashy wine and food event that drew local and national celebrities as well as 800 or so visitors to the historic Proctors theater complex in downtown. The likes of J Maxwell (left), the Clifton Park chef who has so far survived four rounds of Gordon Ramsay's bellowing on this season's Fox Network show "Hell's Kitchen," and wine expert and author Kevin Zraly were among the faces spotted making the rounds.

More than 60 wineries as well as various food merchants, restaurants and caterers doled out tasting samples to a crowd that included 650 pre-sold tickets and several hundred more walk-ups at $50 a head for the grand tasting rounds that took up two full performance and public spaces in the complex. That's not counting the crowd at a dinner gala Friday night.

In addition, a series of paid and free seminars was held in the main theater to set up the day, with a nice crowd attending the finale -- a two-man dog-and-pony show by yours truly and Fred LeBrun, a journalism and wine judging colleague.

Since the overall theme of the event was "Romancing the Grape," we stayed under that umbrella with "Grape Expectations ... and how to achieve them," a half-hour seminar on how to extract the most enjoyment from the lands and the people who produce the wines you try, how to travel well in wine country foreign and domestic, and how to create home winetasting events that expand the fun aspects of wine sampling.

As far as timing is concerned, holding such an event in February picks up the torch laid down, or dropped, by The Desmond, the Colonie, NY, convention/hotel complex that had a nationally renowned wine festival each February for years but stopped it several years ago.

The board and management of Proctors, as the cultural heart of Schenectady and one of the Capital Region's premier performing arts spaces, was smart to seize on this gap in the social schedule. Drawing both young and mid-life wine lovers to an event in such numbers bodes well for this to become an annual attraction as big as The Desmond's had been.

Even without packages created as tie-ins with local hotels and other businesses, something the Proctors staff will be looking at for next month, this was a great start.

Some glimpses from the event:

Chef Denny DeLorenzo (right), whose new Schenectady restaurant is in the works, speaks with friends outside the GE Theater, part of the Proctors complex.

That's not a grape stomper, but it is the blowup symbol of Barefoot Wine and Bubbly, the Modesto, CA, winemaker.

Charmaine Ushkow pours a sample of wine from Heron Hill in New York's Finger Lakes.

Food played a prominent role in the wine festival, as can be seen in this buffet line for Riverstone Manor, restaurant and banquet caterer in Glenville, NY.

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