Hot 'n Tasty

Thomas Family Winery to mark 20th year of ‘Hot Luck’ food fest

Winery patrons enjoy food, wine, music and fun

(April 2016) – The Hot Luck and Fiery Foods Marketplace’s 20th Anniversary Celebration on April 8-10 will also be the first anniversary of the wood-fired oven at Thomas Family Winery, 208 E. Second St., in Madison, Ind., that became a center of attention at the event last year. Each year, the popular spicy food event draws chileheads from at least seven states and a few foreign countries. The wood-fired oven provided a steady flow of pizza for the chileheads.
The oven is just one of the changes for Hot Luck over the years. As the event has grown, there have been major changes to the Hot Luck mission.

Photo by John Sheckler

Jim and Abbie Campbell pose at a past year’s Hot Luck and Fiery Foods Marketplace, held annually at Madison’s Thomas Family Winery.

“We had no idea the event was going to have a 20-year draw for a regional and somewhat international standpoint,” said Thomas Family Winery co-owner Steve Thomas. “Twenty years is a lot of water under the bridge. In the beginning, Hot Luck was a way for people to have a place to get hot stuff. Now the real aficionados have learned to make their own, so we need to focus on sourcing the things to help them.”
There are also a wide variety of free workshops to entertain the spicy food fans.
“We have tried to move as the people have learned,” Thomas added. “We are now teaching rather than simply providing hot and spicy products for sale.”
There are several examples that show the growing skills of the people attending the festival. An early winner of the salsa contest, Gary Duckworth, is now a vendor, selling his own brand of hot sauce. 
Repeat winners of the Saturday afternoon salsa contest reach a point where they no longer are allowed to enter the contest but instead to be named as a judge.
The most recent entry to the “Salsa Judge Emeritus” status is Bill Lancton. He is a member of the Indiana Jazz Hall of Fame. After starting to play gigs in Madison, he finally decided to move there.
“When it becomes obvious that someone is really close to mastery of salsa, it is time for them to move up to the top of the mountain where all others can climb and seek their advice,” said Thomas. “Jim and Abbie Campbell were the first to obtain that status, local dulcimer player John Sheckler followed a few years later. Now Bill joins the select group.”
The Campbells worked with Thomas to create the event.
“When they first thought of Hot Luck and Fiery Foods, they thought of it as a lark,” said Thomas. “The festival has similarities with the winery. When we opened, the primary business was people walking in to buy and then leaving. Now the goal of the winery and Hot Luck is to provide a wonderful place where people can just sit down and enjoy themselves.”
The event opens with a pitch-in dinner on Friday night. Saturday highlights include a salsa contest with the winner receiving the coveted “Sombrero Grande.  Also during the day on Saturday the chileheads flow to the winery side lot to see grills and hot pepper demonstrations under the two large tents provided by event sponsor Steinhardt Heating & Air Conditioning, and their Big Green Eggs. The wide variety of demonstrations features everything from appetizers and entrees to desserts, and allows festival-goers to interact with experienced chileheads.
The event offers free admission. Children are welcome. Saturday evening will feature an evening of entertainment by Greg Ziesemer & Kriss Luckett.

• For more information, call the winery at (812) 273-3755 or visit: wwwThomasFamilyWinery.us.

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