“A friend of the devil is a friend of mine…”

by Katie Pizzuto on June 17, 2010

in Festivals

Fear and Loathing in the Garden State – Part 2

It had become evident that the festival was not at all what I expected when I found myself standing at its core, feeling fairly certain I could throw a rock and not hit someone. Thank Bacchus we had gotten comped tickets because I was covering it as “press,” because in the end they would’ve had to drag me from the promoter’s office clawing, kicking, biting and cursing in an effort to get my money back. Last year, the attendance was apparently about triple what I saw, and given the fact that their contingencies for rain were paramount to herding a couple thousand people into a Giants Stadium underpass, I wasn’t surprised that there weren’t many repeat customers from the year before. The Great American Food & Music Fest was made bearable by the presence of two people, and more than worth it because of a third. It was beyond Clint Eastwood…it was The Good, The Terrible and The Fugly. I’m working my way backwards so I can end on a good note—yes, Virginia, I have a heart.

The Fugly

Public wine and beer tastings are a dangerous proposition because inevitably, you wind up with a few people who drink enough alcohol to keep a small Ethiopian tribe hammered for 3 straight days. Add to that the fact that the people pouring were hired help and not brewery/winery representatives, and you’ve got yourself a clusterfuck of folks who just don’t give a crap how many times you come back to their table…they’re happy to oblige and pour you another. This also pissed me off because there was no one there to talk to about what was being poured. The hired help smiled, took your “drink tickets” and poured you your two ounces while they impatiently waited for their shift to end, so asking them about the oak regimen of the chardonnay seemed futile.

The Terrible

Then there was the fact that this was supposed to be a celebration of American food and beverages, which it wasn’t…no, not so much…no…uh-uh. The beers did slightly better at covering the US than the wines did, though somehow Europe got roped in as well. Thus my question is, what the fuck, people? Here’s the list:

Belfast Bay – ME
Blue Moon (brewed by Coors) – CO
Boaks – NJ
Cricket Hill – NJ
Defiant – NY
Erie – PA
Grimbergen – BELGIUM
McGovern’s – ME
Murphy’s – IRELAND (though now owned by Heineken)
Point – WI
Sam Adams – MA
Sierra Nevada – CA
Spaten – GERMANY
Yuengling – PA

Total states represented: 8 out of 50
Total foreign countries: 3

Not to mention that 14 of Sam Adams’ beers were being poured (hogged up 4 tables) and 6 of Sierra’s beers (2 tables), where everyone else only had a couple. Then we have the wine list, which was worse:

H.J. Wiemer – NY
Lemelson – OR
Wine by Joe – OR
Raptor Ridge – OR
Pull Eighty – OR
Foris – OR
Long Shadows – WA
Dusted Valley – WA
Cougar Crest – WA
Chateau St. Michelle – WA
Goose Ridge – WA
Beresan – WA
Alba – NJ
Tomasello – NJ
Ste Chapelle – ID
Lincourt – CA
X Winery – CA
Round Hill – CA
AND 30 OTHER WINERIES ALL FROM FUCKING CALIFORNIA

Total states represented: 6 out of 50
Total percentage that was from CA: 60%
“Representation of American wine” my ass.

The Good

There were, however, the graces of a few wonderful people that saved this festival from ruin—people that, by the way, did not include Paula Deen being taxied around in a golf cart or Duff Goldman trading off between cake decorator and rock star. Gary Vaynerchuk did his thing, turning people on to varietals outside the realm of cabernet, and he was a pleasure to watch…as usual. Bob Schneider—the greatest musician you never heard of—was not only awesome onstage, but was also kind enough to come out of his bus, sign my kid’s hat and take a photo with him. But the person who made the rain, the drunks and the California wine all worth while was Mitch Omer of Hell’s Kitchen—no, dammit, NOT Gordon Ramsay’s Hell’s Kitchen!

I wrote up Mitch’s cookbook here a while back, and this was an opportunity to not only meet the infamous legend, but also to get my cookbook autographed. The moment the rain began, the crowds ran for cover, leaving a lot of food vendors with time to kill—an opportunity I dove on like a vulture. Standing in the pouring rain, looking into Hell’s Kitchen’s food tent, I saw Mitch standing miles high above everyone else, donning one of his hats. It only took the mention of my blog’s name to gain both his interest and an invite to come in out of the rain. Mitch, as it turns out, is a huge Gonzo fan, and is probably one of the few (if not only) people alive to have Ralph Steadman’s actual signature tattooed on his right arm. He and I hit it off like long-lost friends, and his dedication here in my cookbook is what all chefs should aspire to—honesty and meaning. Thanks, Mitch…your presence was what put the “great” in the Great American Food & Music Fest. And your ribs, by the way? Holy shit were they good!

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Tammy Harrison June 17, 2010

I wish you could have had VA wine there

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2 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

Me too, Tammy. In fact, according to the original list I had of participating wineries, there were supposed to be a couple of VA wines there. But when I got to the table that was basically called “The Other 46” (meaning not CA, OR, WA or NY…and which only had representation from ID and VA) there was only the one ID wine there, and two other CA wines in place of the VAs. I was told they didn’t arrive in time, which is fine, but having a total of 33 CA wines there was ridiculous. Plenty of other states would’ve jumped at the chance to be represented.

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3 Coupe 60 June 17, 2010

We are different here, in that quite honestly…I’d much prefer more Cali, WA, and OR wineries present Katie…You could throw in a Gruet stand to represent NM… and with all due respect, the rest of them could pound salt for all I care including NY…but that’s just me…

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4 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

It’s that attitude that keeps other wineries near bankruptcy….there are fantastic wines being made in other states, you’ve just never had them cuz they aren’t readily available. Lack of awareness perpetuates lack of demand. I’d take tons of wines over CA boringness.

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5 Coupe 60 June 17, 2010

If you look at the numbers of wine production by state I’d argue that CA wine was drastically under represented at the fare (to the tune of about 30%).

Based on a 2008 US Dept of Commerce study at http://www.trade.gov/td/ocg/wine2008.pdf and extracted below

“Since 1999, the number of wineries has increased by 81 percent from 2688 to 4867. According
U.S. Treasury’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Division (TTB)2, these 4,867 wine
producers produced a total of 2.44 billion liters.
• At 2.18 billion liters, California accounted for 89.25 percent, followed by
• New York with 106.8 million liters (4.37 percent),
• Washington with 75.9 million liters (3.11 percent),
• Oregon with 15.6 million liters (0.64 percent),
• Florida with 6.6 million liters (0.27 percent),
• New Jersey with 6.3 million liters (0.26 percent),
• Kentucky with 4.7 million liters (0.19 percent),
• Ohio with 4.2 million liters (0.18 percent),
• Virginia with 3.7 million liters (0.15 percent), and
• North Carolina with 3.5 million liters (0.14 percent). ”

if you wanted the wine fare to represent the US wine industry, you should have had almost 90% of the wineries there from CA. Throw in some WA, OR, and NY wineries, and some hometown NJ wines and you’d be at almost 98% of all the wine produced in the US…

While there may be a lot of plonk in that ocean, I’d bet that proportionally there are more great small winemakers from those states than the rest of the US combined…Its all in the numbers….

As an analogy, 204 countries attempted to qualify for the 2010 world cup. Only 32 are actually in the finals…why? because nobody wants to see inferior countries like Trinidad and Tobago (the Mississippi of US Wine making states) get trounced by Brazil (The California) 11-0… Brazil is just better…

6 Coupe 60 June 17, 2010

and while you truly are “one fucking cool broad” ….I do not believe that ole Mitch is spelling “Goddamd” correctly there…

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7 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

He wrote “Goddamit” (just didn’t cross the t) but cut the guy some slack…he takes medication because he’s bi-polar and it gives him bad shakes.

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8 Linsey June 17, 2010

Holy crap … the size of that rib that Anthony is eating … damn he can eat!

Will go back and read the blog now – I wanted to see his photo first lol

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9 Linsey June 17, 2010

Would just like to state how utterly jealous I am …

Great blog Katie

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10 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

Mitch was kind enough to give us not one but TWO of those dinosaur ribs….they were unbelievable.

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11 Linsey June 17, 2010

Droooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooolz

Only one had a really really good rib and that was in a chinese … I dont like them when they are swimming in grease

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12 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

I’ve got his recipe, so I know what I’ll be trying soon 🙂

13 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

Lou, the point wasn’t to represent the US “wine industry” it was to represent “American wine”….in that they failed. And to be honest, I’ve had merlots from the mountains of Georgia that are more graceful and elegant than half the overripe crap coming from CA, and I’ve had sparklers from not only NM but also MI that are half the cost and just as balanced as Iron Horse or J (mind you, I like J). There’s simply no reason to NOT show what other states can do. We’re not talking Florida mango wine here, but GREAT stuff. Not to mention that they included crap from NJ simply because the event was held in NJ….that stuff is shit, and could easily have been replaced by a dozen other states’ wines.

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14 Coupe 60 June 17, 2010

We will have to agree to disagree here Katie…

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15 Don June 17, 2010

I’m wondering how the wines were represented. Did the vineyards have to fly them there for the event? Were they supposed to have a representative there as well? Or were the wines selected and put out by the event organizers? If it was the latter, I agree that there was no reason that there shouldn’t have been more states represented. If it was the former and would take an investment of time money and resources from the individual wineries, I guess they self selected. It all depends on how the wines got there.

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16 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

It was the latter, Don…I can’t speak for the beer section yet, but I know for a fact that Gary Vaynerchuk handled choosing which wines would be poured and then had them shipped over to the event…no reps were there at all, nor were they asked to be. There’s simply zero reason there couldn’t have been a better variety.

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17 Don June 17, 2010

Like I said on my blog earlier, Gary should have known better. Makes you wonder if one guy has too much control…Hmmm I say yes.

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18 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

He should have, but it goes to show that the event organizers don’t give a crap either. If you’re gonna call it the great American anything, represent America, not a tiny fraction of it. What pisses me off is that people ALREADY KNOW CALIFORNIA. You’re not doing anything grand by pouring 4 CA chardonnays! Stand out for fuck’s sake!

19 Katie Pizzuto June 18, 2010

OK, so after speaking with both Gary and Matt (in charge of beer) it turns out that they were given minimal time to choose the pouring lists, and were required to go through a particular couple of NJ distributors who promised several lists to choose from and were only given a couple of lists. Then, one never even delivered their share on the day of the event, as promised. In fact, they even deleted and substituted some of the beers at their own convenience, without notifying Matt first. So to Matt and Gary’s defense, they did the best with what they had. That being said, I still hold the organizers responsible for the mess. If it’s not going to be representative of AMERICAN food and beverage, just call it The Great Food and Music Fest and leave well enough alone. As I mentioned to Matt, had I attended as part of the general public and not as press, I would’ve probably been fine with everything…decent beers, wine and food…but given that I was hoping to find an array of representatives from across the country, and was looking forward to chatting with them about their products, the whole event was a total flop.

20 subdaimon June 22, 2010

IMO, these events come across as a means to cash in, for the distributors and sponsors. I rarely believe they are trying to further an altruistic agenda and always take them with a grain of salt.

3TSaD |(

21 Anthony June 17, 2010

that was an unbelievable rib. Thanks for that one Katie and Joe!

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22 Linsey June 17, 2010

yeah you totally look like you enjoyed it Anthony.

You better get the recipe from Katie and a stock of ribs in for August xxx

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23 Katie Pizzuto June 17, 2010

BBQ at my place for Memorial Day (end of August for you Brits) 🙂

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24 Linsey June 17, 2010

Book me a prime seat, all being well I am definitely gonna be there – yay

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25 Coupe 60 June 18, 2010

When did Memorial day move from the last Monday in May….

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26 Katie Pizzuto June 18, 2010

Shit, piss and corruption….you know I meant Labor Day. Had one too many “beverages” when I typed that, I guess!

27 Don June 18, 2010

You could have avoided that mistake if you spit… 😉

28 Katie Pizzuto June 18, 2010

BTW, total aside but I was an ass for not including a link to Bob Schneider’s music so that has been remedied in the post. Grassy Ass for your patience!

29 coupe 60 June 20, 2010

so wait, are we saying that a Gary Vaynerchuk event, was not carefully planned out…right down to the last detail…I am stunned and dismayed that …

…ahhh I can’t even continue to type that with a straight face…Just be thankful that they were not pouring the La Reserva wines I guess…

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30 Katie Pizzuto June 21, 2010

Wasn’t his fault….his choices were limited to say the least….gotta love the 3-tier system at play in the US of A.

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31 subdaimon June 22, 2010

Could have been worst, someone could have wanted separate checks 😉

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