We’d heard about GrapeFest from a couple we’re friends with. “Surpassed my expectations,” she said. “Genuinely fantastic,” he said. My husband, Rob, and I were intrigued. We were admittedly completely ignorant about Grapevine, Texas. But wine? Wine we knew. Wine, we loved.
Texas is the fifth-largest wine-producing state in the nation, and it makes perfect sense that a Texas town named after grapes would be the setting for the biggest wine festival in the Southwest.
As the annual four-day festival approached, our excitement grew. We’d soon learn that there was more to love about Grapevine than its most-famous festival, and the insider tips we learned soon became the hidden gems we couldn’t stop ourselves from sharing.
“Bummed we can’t make it,” he said. “Try every wine from Messina Hof Winery that you can!” she said. Our friends had a wedding the same September weekend as GrapeFest, but we graciously attended in their honor.
GrapeFest dominates downtown – a bustling, colorful jubilee that feels more like a town fair than a snooty wine festival. Vendor booths and carnival rides lent to the enlivening setting, where stroller-pushing parents and serious sommeliers intermingled.
As we presented our tickets to enter the festival, the GrapeFest volunteer asked if it was our first time. When we said yes, she said: “Whatever you do, don’t miss the Champagne Cork Shoot-Off.” Here, we also found out that there is a VIP option with bonus flights, snacks, and souvenirs.
We added the Cork Shoot-Off to our list. But first, the People's Choice Wine Tasting Classic.
GrapeFest dominates downtown: a bustling, colorful jubilee that feels more like a town fair than a snooty wine festival.
The People's Choice Wine Tasting Classic is the largest consumer-judged wine competition in the country, where participants sip and select their favorite entrants for ten categories of wine, including best blend, best dry, and best rosé.
More than two dozen Texas wineries pour well over 100 wines throughout the competition. Wines are judged over several sessions throughout the weekend, culminating in an award ceremony on the last day of the festival.
We wandered the tent with hundreds of other wine-lovers, taking it all in before sampling the wines that piqued our interest. The wines are Texas-forward – not only in taste but in selection. Dozens of whites, reds, and rosés showed off the state’s versatile terroir. International regions were also showcased, including Sicily and Sonoma wineries.
I tried not to let my friend’s fondness for Messina Hof Winery influence my votes, but it was tough to ignore the winery’s presence. Other popular Texas wineries that caught my eye included Blue Ostrich Winery and Silver Dollar Winery.
Wineries weren’t the only competitors at GrapeFest. We heard GrapeStomp before we saw it – dozens of fans cheered on teams of two, who were furiously mashing their heels into grapes. The challenge? Smash as much juice as you can out of 18 pounds of grapes in two minutes to win the coveted Purple Foot Award.
My feet could’ve used some color, and we were lucky enough to snag two entries. What followed was something I’m very glad our friends who attended GrapeFest the previous year weren’t watching. I went full Riverdance, with my feet stepping so quickly it was as though I was crossing over hot coals. My heels jammed down for purposeful squishing and smashing – no toe could slack. I was so committed.
While we gave it our all and had a blast, we still weren’t up to par and were out of the running for the Grand Championship StompOff. Acknowledging our defeat, we headed over to the Champagne Cork Classic to see other competitors aim for targets with flying champagne corks.
Pop! Whizz! Bang!
Champagne corks flew through the air at targets. “That guy’s like a marksman,” a fellow spectator next to us said. It was the perfect opening – like a bubbly champagne bottle – he asked us where we were visiting from and in the way that people who love their city do, he couldn't help but give us a few recommendations of things to do after GrapeFest.
“I know you’re here for the wine,” he said. “But you’d be missing out if you skipped the beer.”
The next day, we switched from rosés to IPAs, per the recommendation of yesterday’s local friend. We started at Outlaw Cider Company, where tea, cherry, peach, and classic apple ciders dotted the menu. It was the perfect, low-key refreshing beverage following a day of lots of walking, lots of talking, lots of stomping, and lots of fun.
Next, we hit up Hop & Sting Brewing Company, where a dozen tap handles allowed us to sample drafts of a rainbow of beers ranging from barely-tinted American light lagers to an espresso stout that was dark as midnight.
As we were closing out our tab, a big group headed in. “Food tour group, the Northeast Texas IPA is my personal fave!” the guide announced. Sensing our curiosity, the bartender told us about Grapevine Food Tours, which offers drinks, bites, walking, and history tours around the city. “Next time!” Rob said, and I was glad to hear that he was making notes for our next visit, as I had been doing too.
To end our evening, we hit up the speakeasy-esque Magnum Room at Hotel Vin, an intimate cocktail bar that’s very Mad Men. “We have got to tell our friends about this,” Rob said.
Another couple saddled up next to us at the bar. “We’re in town for GrapeFest,” he said. “Don’t miss the GrapeStomp!” I insisted. After just a few days, we found ourselves making recommendations about things to do in Grapevine like we were trusted guides.
What else would we discover when we returned? Perhaps a new favorite restaurant after a food tour? Or maybe, a Purple Foot?
For now, we’d appreciate the experience we had. But back home, there was no way we could keep it to ourselves!
Think you have what it takes to win the Purple Foot Award? Or, just want the best of Texas wine all in one place?