the mount vernon wine festival & why festivals are hard to plan

 

Mount Vernon Wine Festival

A week ago I attended the Mount Vernon Wine Festival. This was an event that I’d been looking forward to for a while, and I’d heard about for many years. It’s well known in the DC area as a rare opportunity (it happens twice a year) to enjoy food and wine on the lawn of George Washington’s estate, overlooking the Potomac River, listening to some live music.

It’s hard for me to attend any sort of event without keeping my “event planner” cap on. It’s for this reason that my husband doesn’t love going to weddings with me anymore. So naturally, at this event with hundreds of people, an event that’s well-known and obviously successful enough to warren three days twice a year, I had some… feedback.

Overall, the event is well-run. The issues that the Mount Vernon festival run into are no different than other successful festivals, which are, by nature, difficult to plan and execute. Here’s why:

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First, people. Festivals are almost always crowded (at least the successful ones). A festival could be several hundred people or several thousand people, but they are almost always crowded, at least in some ways. There are just so many people to deal with! There were definitely times during the Mount Vernon Wine Festival that things felt very crowded. Usually this was around the wine tables.

Second, people hate waiting in lines. While some waiting in probably necessary, the more festival organizers can do to limit waiting in line, the better. If you can do things on the front end when guests arrive, such as check for ID at a festival centered around the consumption of alcohol, it moves the line along. Mount Vernon did this and had a brightly colored wrist band.

All transactions add to waiting in line. Anytime cash or credit cards change hands at a festival, it takes time and adds to the length of a line. One way to get around this is by charging one price for everything, making the event essentially unlimited or all-inclusive. Mount Vernon, like many wine festivals, went this route by charging a ticket price that gave guests “unlimited” wine tastings (more on that later). This definitely works better (in terms of the transaction costs, at least) than pay-as-you-go festivals. If guests wanted to buy a full glass or a bottle (or 7…  seriously, my husband and I bought SEVEN bottles of wine – to bring home, of course!) there was a dedicated line around the corner for this purpose, keeping the main, front side of the table free for tastings.

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 People want to get their money’s worth. If you DO charge a ticket for unlimited tastings (or unlimited anything), people want to maximize the value. How this plays out at a wine festival is plenty of drunk people. Now, I’ve been to many wine festivals and I would say that Mount Vernon’s had probably the least amount of drunk people (you’re at the home of the father of our country, after all!) but there were definitely quite a few people who had a bit too much.  At Mount Vernon, the majority of guests seemed to be more interested in buying bottles and snacks and picnicking on the lawn than getting drunk.

Festivals often have inflexible policies that make their guests a captive audience. At Mount Vernon, absolutely no food or drink was allowed inside the festival. Now it’s actually state laws that forbid Mount Vernon to let guests bring their own wine, but the food and other drinks was their own doing. Seriously, going through “bag check” was like going through a TSA check point at the airport. But instead of confiscated large bottles of shampoo, the staff were taking grapes and sleeves of crackers.

One area where Mount Vernon did a great job was in providing added value. The $38 ticket included a sunset tour of the house (which normally costs $17), plus George’s wine cellar was open, which isn’t usually open to the public.  Since I’m a huge history nerd, I loved the idea of sunset tours of Mount Vernon so it was a big value add for me.

All in all, the Mount Vernon Wine Festival was a lot of fun, and it despite the challenges of any festival, it was well done. Have you been to the wine festival before? What did you think?

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