OAK RIDGE — Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fourth annual Nine Lakes Wine Festival has been converted to a safer, spread out, open-air “Winemaker’s Market” on Sept. 12, from 3 to 7 p.m., at Melton Lake Park, Oak Ridge.
While no wine tasting will be offered, nine Tennessee wineries and their mask-wearing winemakers will be on hand to talk about their products and sell bottles of wine directly to the public. Customers will also enjoy music, artisan shopping and take-home gourmet dinner and gelato from local food trucks.
“You will not see these wines in grocery stores, liquor stores or restaurants locally. You really have to come to an event like this or drive out to the winery,” said event director, Rebecca Williams. “Our winemakers are bringing award-winning wines of all types and styles to Melton Lake Park. From dry wines to fruit and muscadine wines, and hard ciders, you’ll find a wide variety of Tennessee wines at this Winemaker’s Market. Next year we hope to be back with a traditional wine tasting, but for now, this is what we have to do. We’re doing everything we can to make a safe, but fun, event.”
Tickets are $10, and will be limited for to allow for safe social distancing. They are on sale now at www.NineLakesWineFestival.com. Although there will be no “Barrels of Fun Charity Race” this year, a portion of all proceeds will benefit United Way of Anderson County.
Other safety procedures at the Winemakers Market will include:
• All vendor booths spread at least 10 feet apart.
• All vendors wearing masks.
• The public is asked to wear masks, too.
• Hand sanitation stations throughout the venue.
• Social distancing required of customers.
• No wine tasting in person, but virtual tastings are available at www.NineLakesWineFestival.com starting Sept. 1.
• Curbside pickup is offered as an option as well for pre-paid orders.
“A virtual tasting sounds crazy, but many of our winemakers have been doing it since the beginning of the pandemic,” said Williams. “They open a bottle, talk about how they made the wine and what’s special about it, and what foods it complements. They let their personalities shine through the tastings, and that’s what makes them fun.”
“Tennessee is a great place to grow many varietals of grapes,” said James R. Riddle, president of the Appalachian Region Wine Producers, which is producing the event as a way to showcase the region’s wines. “While many farms struggle to make ends meet, a vineyard can be profitable and a way to keep a family farm in production. Our wineries, like other small businesses, have had a difficult time during the pandemic. We hope to continue to support them and Tennessee agriculture through this event and more in the future.”