Three years ago, Ashley Ryals wasn’t sure Huntsville was ready to host a wine festival.
Flash forward to the morning of June 23, as Ryals hosted a press conference announcing Big Spring Crush, which she says will become Huntsville’s first-ever wine festival, when it’s held 4 – 9 p.m. Sept. 27 in Big Spring International Park East. The festival is a production of Ryals’ event planning venture Homegrown Huntsville, known for its Dine & Dash downtown restaurant-spotlighting tours and Brew Hop craft-brewery trolley tour.
Big Spring Crush tickets, which will be limited, went on sale today, available online via homegrownhuntsville.com.
Incentive-driven pricing will see the first 200 general admissions tickets sold at a $38 tier. After that, the price increases to $43, and after a yet-to-be-determined number are sold at that tier, remaining advance general admission tickets will be sold for $48. At the gate, tickets will be $55. In addition to admission, a ticket includes a commemorative tasting glass, and unlimited samples of wines from 80 or so wine makers that will be at Big Spring Crush. Sample sizes will be about one ounce or so.
So what makes Ryals think Huntsville is now primed for a wine festival?
“I think there’s just a huge downtown explosion right now,” Ryals says. “With Downtown Huntsville Inc. coming in and doing such a great job getting people downtown with all the events they do, and I noticed a trend with all the Dine & Dash selling out weeks before the events.”
Big Spring Crush VIP tickets are $65 and capped at 200 persons, and include access to exclusive wines not available elsewhere at the festival, and wine-and-food-pairings from Church Street Wine Shop owner Matt Mell and The Eaves Restaurant owner/executive chef Merle Phillip. Cooking with wine demonstrations will also be in the VIP mix.
“One of the things I’m pretty big on in making sure all vendors participating are successful,” Ryals says. “We’re looking at having three or four food trucks and two local restaurants. Wine inspired cuisine is going to be the catch – if you’re an on-site food vendor you have to come up with a menu that’s inspired by wine.”
Big Spring Crush is also going to feature live music. Although the lineup has yet to be decided, Ryals pictures the acts leaning towards folk and blues, and says she’s been talking with local slide-guitar ace “Microwave” Dave Gallaher about appearing at the festival.
Other possible programming might include a tasting competition among Alabama wineries, which in theory would be held in the weeks leading up to Big Spring Crush and bronze, silver and gold medals being announced and awarded during the festival.
At the Big Spring Crush press conference, held under the shade of Big Spring Park trees, Phillip served scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, including a ricotta goat cheese, wild mushroom and thyme tartine and crab and heirloom tomato quiche. Mell and wife Stephanie Mell poured glasses of Lamarca Prosecco and Harpersville-made Morgan Creek Vineyards Cahaba White.
Phillip says wine and food are, “like a ying to a yang, basically. Wine enhances the flavor of just about everything. It’s not just an ingredient people toss in as an afterthought; it can be the underpinning of a dish. It adds a lot of flair to a sauce, you can deglaze a pan of simple mushrooms and make them sing. I am extremely excited to be a part of this inaugural wine festival.”
Asked for advice for first-time wine-festival goers, Matt Mell said, “You don’t try to rush 50 wines. If you like a white wine, maybe you continue that genre of wines and try them. If you don’t like a Cabernet because it’s too heavy for you, you’re better off going to something your palate enjoys and refining from that. I’d start with your whites and slowly move up the gambit to the pinot noir and the Cabernet and the dessert wines.
Huntsville City Council President Mark Russell also spoke at the Big Spring Crush press conference.
“We on the city council and Mayor Tommy Battle like these events in the park and downtown Huntsville,” Russell said, “and we’ll certainly do everything possible to promote it. Our citizens have been saying over and over again these are the types of events they want in Huntsville and we’re so glad somebody is helping bring them here.”
Not that into wines? Big Spring Crush will also host a beer tent featuring local craft breweries including Salty Nut, Yellowhammer and Straight to Ale.
Big Spring Crush is easily the biggest event Homegrown Huntsville has helmed thus far in its three-year or so existence. Their Dine & Dash and Brew Hop events draw about a 100 to a 150 people a pop. Ryals is hoping Big Spring Crush will attract a crowd of about 1,000 or 2,000. “We’re doing limited tickets for the first year just to make sure it’s well-organized. Our big concern is being able to get it out to the public and let them know about it.”