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A Lesson Learned

City officials put cork
on wine tasting event

Incident exposes lack of policy
for using Madison riverfront


 
(March 2013)
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Don Ward

The “A Taste of Spring” wine tasting event has gone sour. The event, originally scheduled to return for a second year on May 11 on the Madison, Ind., riverfront, has been abruptly cancelled.
After several months of planning and obtaining the necessary city parks department permit to use the gazebo area of the riverfront and after spending $1,000 on brochures, event organizers in Vevay, Ind., were then informed they could not hold the event again this year.
Andrew Forrester, the city’s Community Relations Specialist, in mid-February called organizer Ted Brown of Lamb, Ind., to relay the news. Lamb and his wife, Mary, are partners with his sister-in-law Pat Carr, along with Bonnie and Ralph Carr, to form the new “Partners in Wine” business and in organizing the Madison wine tasting event.
Forrester said the turnabout in allowing the event to go forward on city-owned property was based on both the concern for allowing for-profit groups to sell merchandise on public property, and on objections raised by the two downtown Madison wineries, even though both wineries had been invited to participate.
“We did not want to set a precedent that could cause problems with other groups coming in wanting to sell anything they want,” Forrester explained. He added that last year’s tasting event occurred soon after the new Damon Welch took over as mayor and the event planning was already under way.
A year ago, VisitMadison Inc. tourism board members and tourism director Linda Lytle voiced rousing approval at their February meeting for the new event because they had been seeking new tourism-related events to fill the schedule in the offseason months of the year. Pat Carr, principle organizer, had previously spent seven years running the wine tent at Vevay’s Swiss Wine Festival, so she had a good track record in planning and operating such an event.
Despite rain and cold temperatures in the 40s that day, Brown said the inaugural event attracted about 150 people, “and almost every one of them bought a bottle of wine from our six wineries represented, so they were happy.” He said the event “lost thousands of dollars” but it was a start. In addition to poor weather, he said the organizers did not advertise enough.
The organizers had nine wineries scheduled to participate this year, and had again invited the three Madison wineries – Lanthier Winery, Thomas Family Winery and Madison Vineyards – as well as The Ridge Winery in Vevay.
In addition to setting a bad precedent, Forrester said the city last year provided water and electric for the event but not garbage pickup or fencing. Organizers charged $20 per ticket, which included unlimited wine samplings and a souvenir glass. Participating southern Indiana wineries included Huber Winery of Starlight, Rowland Winery of Dillsboro, Indian Creek Winery of Georgetown, Carousel Winery of Mitchell, and Chateau Pomije from Guliford.
The group had hoped to return to hold a second fall wine tasting event at Fireman’s Park during the weekend of the Madison Chautauqua Festival of Art. But before fall arrived, they were told they could not hold the event at that time at that location because of concerns about parking shortages for Chautauqua attendees.
“We were very disappointed with the decision to not allow us to come back to Madison this year, especially after having held a successful event last year,” Brown said.
Brown said he met with Elizabeth Thomas at Thomas Family Winery to try to get them on board and salvage the event, but he was unsuccessful.
But Forrester said the decision essentially was made because of the for-profit nature of the event. As a result, the city staff plans to formulate a policy regarding who qualifies to use the riverfront and public property for events. Many festivals and groups routinely use the riverfront, gazebo and Madison Bicentennial Park, but they are all organized under non-profit entities, Forrester said.
On a similar note, Forrester said the city staff may need to formulate a policy on who leases the city’s mobile sound stage. When the stage was purchased by the city a few years ago, then-Mayor Al Huntington said the stage would be paid for, in part, by leasing it to other groups. So far, no for-profit group has requested using the stage. The stage instead has only been used for non-profit events, such as the RiverRoots Festival, Madison Regatta music events, Madison Ribberfest, River City Music Festival, Madison Area Chamber of Commerce’s Soup, Stew, Chili & Brew event, Madison Bicentennial, Prince of Peace Fall Festival, John Paul Park Foundation, Madison Relay for Life, and the Salvation Army.
Forrester said he suggested to Brown that he could explore renting space for the event at local private establishments in downtown Madison as an alternative. Instead, the “Partners in Wine” have made arrangements to hold their second annual wine tasting event Saturday, May 11, at Belterra Casino’s Ogle Haus Inn in Vevay. The event will feature several specialty foods from local restaurants and a silent auction, with proceeds to benefit the Community Foundation of Switzerland County. They are also planning Halloween “costumed” wine tasting event Oct. 27 at the Ogle Haus. Participating wineries include five from last year – Buck Creek, Rowland, Indian Creek, Huber and Carousel– and four new additions – Easley Winery of Indianapolis, Ertel Winery of Batesville, Owen Valley Winery of Spencer and Cedar Creek Winery of Martinsville.
“We love Madison and we had hoped on making this event bigger and better each year, but I guess it won’t be in Madison,” Brown said.

• Don Ward is the editor, publisher and owner of RoundAbout. Call him at (812) 273-2259 or email: Don@RoundAbout.bz.

 

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