Winery expects thousands of visitors to annual festival
WoodMill Winery is expecting to draw a crowd of thousands this weekend.
For its ninth consecutive year, the winery will host its Annual Grape Stomp Festival.
According to owner Larry Cagle, Jr., the festival first began as a family gathering.
“We started a year before we opened, and it was a family event,” he said. “Then, the year we opened (the winery), we invited just the local community up and down our road. And the third year was our first full year open to the public. We had about 25 vendors and maybe 2,000 people showed up.”
Since opening it to the public, the festival has continued to expand, bringing thousands from across North Carolina to western Lincoln County.
“Two years ago, it turned into a two-day event instead of a one-day event, and last year, we had about 7,000 on Saturday and 4,000 people on Sunday,” Cagle said. “We get visitors (from) as far as Raleigh coming to see us. We’ve been working hard on our markets in Greensboro and Raleigh.”
This year, Cagle anticipates to host more than 80 vendors, 12 of which will be oriented toward children, offering bouncy houses, face painting, gem mining, mini-golf and carriage rides. Adults attending will have a chance to browse through the wares of various local artists and artisans as well as indulge in a free wine tasting and winery tour.
“We’ll have potters, wood turners, several artists, a nursery selling local shrubs and potted plants, jewelry makers — all local businesses and people,” he said. “We’ll have samples of our 20 different wines, but we generally limit it to seven to eight tastings per person. We’ll also be running discounts on all of our wine products; a case of wine will be 20 percent off and three or more bottles of wine will be 10 percent off.”
As a local business owner, Cagle is very selective when it comes to bringing in vendors from outside of Lincoln County.
“We set it up so it’s really focused on local,” he explained. “So, if someone from even Charlotte calls, the only way they’d be considered is if they’re offering something that no one else is offering here, and then we’ll say, alright, we’ll try it. I’m all about trying to promote local people, and I’m a local business. This is a Vale-area festival.”
Vendor space is often competitive, with the festival’s veteran vendors given first priority to the upcoming festival.
“If you were here the first year, as long as you keep coming (to the event), your spot will be locked in,” he said. “But, if you skip one year, then whoever was here last year is in front of you now. We also give priority to people who support us at our grape blessing.”
In addition to promoting local businesses, the festival also features three charity fundraisers.
“We have three primary fundraisers we do during the Grape Stomp,” Cagle said. “The number one fundraiser we do is Susan B. Komen, and the group is out of Hickory. They’re called ‘Save the Ta-Tas.’ We’ll have the Lions Club of Lincolnton, and then we have the Sheriff’s Department Explorers. They’re kids in school that are interested in a career with a police department. It’s like an ROTC program, but for the Sheriff’s Department.
“The whole thing is focused towards our community, and all of the food here is connected to a fundraiser,” he said. “So if you’re selling food, that money is going to a fundraiser.”
The one event that unites participants of all ages, however, is the Grape Stomp Competition. According to Cagle, the competition is divided into five categories: Little Stompers, Teen Stompers, Big Stompers, Group Stompers and Best of Show. Last year, 162 people participated in the Saturday grape stomp, with 125 people participating that Sunday.
While some grape stomps focus on the amount of juice produced by the stompers, WoodMill Winery competitors must appeal to the judges’ sense of humor.
“The grape stomp is entertainment, and the judges are looking to be entertained,” Cagle explained. “It isn’t based on the amount of juice you can produce.”
Competitors will work to impress three judges, with winners from each of the categories awarded with a festival t-shirt and additional gift. For those not competing, there will still be chances to earn door prizes every 30 minutes.
“The biggest question I get is ‘Do you use the grapes to make wine?’” he laughed. “We don’t even use our grapes. We go buy grapes from the grocery store, because our grapes we feel are too valuable to throw away after everybody stomps on them. The muscadines are super healthy and extraordinary, and we’re not going to waste them on a grape stomp.”
Wood Mill Winery’s Grape Stomp Festival will run from 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday and noon-5 p.m. Sunday. The winery is located at 1350 Woodmill Winery Lane in Vale. For more information, call (704) 276-9911 or visit www.woodmillwinery.com.