Wine can be an intimidating subject. But at Wine Festival Winchester, the tables are turned and, rather than starting the process with the hundreds of wines on pour, the first question is: what kind of flavours and wines do YOU like? There then follows an open invitation to ‘Follow Your Taste’ round the festival. It’s proved to be nothing short of revolutionary.
The festival, now in its sixth year, has been acclaimed by those who’ve attended as, ‘Magical’, ‘Iconic,’ and ‘The best wine festival in the country.’ It brings together wine producers and retailers pouring wines of all kinds, from top-notch English sparkling wine to vintage port, with food, masterclasses, a photo booth and prize draw all adding to the fun.
What’s more, the festival has so far raised more than £14,000 for good causes and this year is announcing even more measures to reduce waste, promote recycling and generally reduce its environmental impact.
The invitation to Follow Your Taste began at the first event in 2014. Festival-goers were asked their personal taste preferences and given colour-coded stickers to match. The scheme breaks wine down into eight categories, all with an individual colour representing that style and a cheeky strap line.
Sparkling wine (blue) is billed as, ‘Let’s Get Fizzical’. Crisp whites (green) are ‘Fresh & Racy’. Richer whites are ‘Mellow Yellow’. Rosé is ‘Tickled Pink’, lighter reds are ‘Feeling Fruity’ and full-bodied reds are ‘Big Smoothie’. ‘Sweet Tooth and Stick Fingers’ is self-explanatory while ‘Dark Horse’ (black) is for everything beyond wine or which defies categorisation.
Every bottle at the festival sports a colour-coded neck tag indicating its style. That way, those who know their natural preference is for crisp whites will be able to explore all the bottles sporting a green tag at the festival, even if the label is entirely in Greek.
It’s not a magic bullet – wine is so intricate and diverse it defies simple categorisation. But Follow Your Taste acts as an ice-breaker, time-saver, route map and invitation to experiment all in one.
Such has been the success of Follow Your Taste that it has even evolved into a web app. Launched in 2016, on one level it is a fun treasure hunt game to find and rate wines around the festival, with users being sent an interactive PDF of all their results after the event.
Yet it’s also been developed as a virtual programme and festival guide to eventually replace the printed versions in a bid to reduce waste. Further initiatives to reduce the festival’s environmental impact include replacing plastic water bottles with ‘hydration stations’, courtesy of sponsor Hildon, re-useable tote bags, an e-ticket system and visitors being issued with their own Riedel wine glass to use and then take away, hence no need for wastage on disposable cups.
‘The festival is for everyone, no matter how much or little you know about wine,’ comments Master of Wine and TV presenter Susie Barrie, who co-hosts the festival with her husband and fellow MW Peter Richards. ‘We love Follow Your Taste because on one level it’s light-hearted fun but it’s also a serious attempt to help people experiment with confidence when it comes to wine. That’s what the festival is all about – having fun and exploring great wine at the same time.’
Festival co-director Claire Quigley Ward adds,
‘Right from the start our goal was to make the wine festival as much about the visitor experience as the wine and Follow Your Taste is perhaps the most visible evidence of that. We want people to relax, enjoy the company and the experience as much as anything. The fact that people keep coming back every year, and the festival has grown and developed every year, is a testament to that engagement and support.’
Wine Festival Winchester takes place 29-30 November 2019 at Winchester Guildhall. Tickets cost £35 and are available from www.thewinefestival.co.uk