For the sixth straight year, The Hotel Hershey will host its annual Wine & Food Festival on Sept. 10-13.
Six years ago, as a new event, it drew 300 people. But now, as the word spread, they are expecting between 800 and 900 people to attend.
"Not only do the numbers grow, but the numbers of the events do, too. The things we are doing over the weekend, we're mixing it up and doing some different things year to year," said Brian Confair, beverage manager at The Hotel Hershey. "I think the word is still getting out there. We see the numbers for the Grand Tasting grow by almost 100 people per year since the initiation of the festival."
The Grand Tasting that Confair is referring to is the icing on the cake at the end of a jam-packed weekend.
"There will be 60 different wineries and five different breweries," Confair said. "I'll have several winemakers here at the different tables, too. There will be wines from all over the world, not just Pennsylvania ones. There is a lot to taste and enjoy."
Along with the wines and beer, the festival will feature foods from the local restaurants in an effort to keep it local.
"All of the restaurants in Hershey are participating by bringing food for tastings, too," Confair explained. "It's good wine, good beer, good food. For five years running, knock on wood, good weather. It's all outdoors."
The idea originally came to Confair years ago because of his love for wine, and it's grown bigger than he imagined.
"It is my baby. I love it very much. Like any child, it's great to see it grow to this level. But once it gets to this level, it's no longer just my baby," Confair said. "I've had a lot of other people come in adopt the wine festival because it really takes a strong team to put an event of this size together. I couldn't do it myself, no way.
"I love wine, and I love Hershey. I have a history with Hershey with my family that goes pretty far back," he continued. "I thought the Hotel Hershey was the perfect venue to set up an elegant wine tasting that is done the right way. It's a learning experience and a way to enjoy the wine, the people and the atmosphere. It's an elegant event. It's a classy event with a stroll through our beautiful property with fantastic wine."
Although Confair expects between 800 and 900 people to attend, he doesn't see the event getting much bigger than that in the future, as he wishes to keep an intimate feel to it.
"We've talked about that a little bit. This festival isn't about the money. It's about the experience and what we have to offer," Confair said. "It's about the quality and the way we offer things. It's usually addressed on a yearly basis, but we like the fact that there's some intimacy with the event and the way we provide the experience for our guests.
"The growth is going to be controlled. We don't want to outgrow who we are and what we offer. I think we are going to plateau around that 900 person level for the grand tasting."
When selecting the wine for the event, which costs $60 for the Grand Tasting, ($20 for designated drivers who are able to eat as much or little as they'd like) Confair tries to get wines that are top-tier and second-tier, but wants to makes sure he has something that everyone will like.
"It's from all over the world so that there's something for everyone. Then we have the brews here just in case people aren't into wine," he explains. "You'll find sweet wines, but you'll find light-bodied, medium-bodied, dry wines; something for everyone. When I choose the wines, that's what I'm looking for."
Along with the Grand Tasting, there will be numerous events going on throughout the weekend, too, which Confair describes as a la carte. Those events include a comedian who focuses her act on wine, a trip to the Waltz Vineyards in Lancaster, a dinner hosted by Cesare Benvenuto on Saturday and a new feature this year, a Bordeaux blending class.
"We do an event every year with a winery. It's either a blending class or a brewing class. This year it's Trinchero," Confair said. "It's an up-and-coming company as far as wines are concerned. For us to do a Bordeaux blending class with them is a great event.
"That's the only new feature for the year. Just in the fact that we want to do things at the Hershey level, we take our time to make sure that we get it right. We grow as we're able to. As long as our service is what it should be, we'll continue to grow. The demand has to be there as well, but it seems to be."
Reservations are set up for the weekend, but guests can register the day of the event, too.