BRASELTON — What began as a community event to showcase Georgia wines 14 years ago has grown into the international Vineyard Fest at Château Élan.
Some 1,500 people strolled through he resort Sunday, dining under a pavilion tent and sampling wines from as far away as
Chile, Spain and Australia in the winery’s cask-lined rooms.
“We’re constantly trying to expand the amount of wines we offer every year,” said Doug Rollins, Château Élan’s vice president of sales and marketing.
And although Château Élan makes wine, “the resort is our first business,” he said.
“We pour a lot of these wines on our wine list, so we don’t consider it so much as competition. We actually have enough visitors up here every year that we can’t make enough of our wine just to serve them.”
The event began years ago with a $10 admission and visitors paying for food and beverages.
“Once a year, we opened up and had 4,500 people here by noon — we used to start at 11 — and we had to shut our front gates,” Rollins said.
“There was no advance ticket sales. We said, ‘This is crazy.’ We made a lot of people mad because they couldn’t get in the main gate.”
Advance-only tickets to Sunday’s event cost $75 per person, including food and beverages, with Château Élan promoting packages tied to the hotel.
The event also featured cooking demonstrations and wine seminars. A jazz band played under the pavilion tent, with couples occasionally getting up to dance.
“The resort was sold out (Saturday) and (Sunday), and it’s not typical for us to be sold out on a Sunday night, which is part of the reason we moved the event to a Sunday,” Rollins said.
“We’re so busy on Saturday nights with weddings that ... it was too much going on in one day.”
Lisa Brooks of Lawrenceville said she and her husband had bought a hotel package tied to the event.
“We are here to taste some great wines and take advantage of a beautiful day,” she said, after stepping out of a grape-stomping container and washing her feet with a water hose.
Katerina Richardson and Rob Lascola of Augusta took a bus to the event.
Unlike his girlfriend, Lascola hadn’t been to Château Élan before.
“So far, so good,” he said. “It looks great. I’ll be ready to wander around and look at more of the buildings and the vineyard and stuff, but right now we’re trying to get started (with wine sampling).”