Small bites: Asheville Wine & Food Festival takes it outside

CHEERS TO CHANGE: Entering its ninth year, the Asheville Wine & Food Festival will feature 100 regional, national and international vendors and exhibitors. This year's Grand Tasting will be at two-day event at Pack Square Park. Photo by Julie McMillan

Change is in the air for the 2017 Asheville Wine & Food Festival — and part of that change is the air itself. Whereas in years past the festival’s main event, the Grand Tasting, took place inside the U.S. Cellular Center, this year’s gathering will be held outdoors at Pack Square Park.

The new location will allow the festival to reinvent itself, says its founder and director Bob Bowles. It also offers out-of-town attendees a chance to experience the best of both worlds. “[Visitors] want to go out and have the city as a wonderful backdrop,” Bowles notes.

Entering its ninth year, the 2017 Asheville Wine & Food Festival will feature 100 regional, national and international vendors and exhibitors. Wines, craft beer, spirits, handcrafted artisan foods and barbecue from pitmaster Christopher Prieto will be available to sample and purchase throughout the event, which runs Friday, Aug. 18, and Saturday, Aug. 19.

Another update is the transformation of the festival’s dessert component, Sweet. This year, a reworked event called Savory & Sweet will take place in the Renaissance Asheville Hotel ballroom, serving as the festival’s finale. Festival public relations manager Melissa Mathews says the inclusion of savory items will offer a greater range of wine and food pairings to satisfy all palates.

The Chef Highlight Series, introduced last year, is another relatively new addition to the festival, replacing the former Chefs Challenge. “Instead of the secret ingredient and the stress of the competition, these chefs are going to get to showcase what they’re really good at making and what they want to show off,” says Matthews. Presenters will include Don Paleno of The Colorful Palate, Duane Fernandes of Isa’s Bistro, Matthew Miner of Jargon, Kyle Allen of Mountain Madre Kitchen and Agave Bar, Nicole Blastow of Twisted Laurel, TJ Centanni of Calypso, Anthony Cerrato of Strada Italiano and New Orleans-based pastry chef Tariq Hanna.

Striking a balance, continues Mathews, has been one of the challenges of putting together this year’s event. The festival’s long history requires that it remain familiar to loyal attendees, while organizers must embrace its natural growth. “I always equate it to driving a bus. You don’t want to drive so fast that everybody who is already on it falls out the back while you’re picking up new attendees,” Matthews says. “Right now we feel like we have a happy marriage between the two. We’re not driving the bus too fast. We’re keeping old friends while accommodating new ones.”

The 2017 Asheville Wine & Food Festival’s Grand Tasting runs noon-5 p.m. Friday, Aug. 18, and 11 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, at Pack Square Park. Sweet & Savory takes place 5-7 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 19, at the Renaissance Asheville Hotel ballroom, 31 Woodfin St. Tickets range from $45 to $140 per person. For details and tickets, visit

Taco Throwdown and Tequila Tasting

The Grey Eagle Taqueria, Salvage Station, Bartaco, Chupacabra Latin Cafe, Zia Taqueria, Asheville Tacos & Taps, Mountain Madre Asheville and Mojo Kitchen & Lounge will all compete for the title of Asheville’s best taco at this year’s Taco Throwdown and Tequila Tasting. Attendees will be able to cast their vote for the winner. The event will also feature flights of tequila, local beer and live music from Coconut Cake and a mariachi band.

The Taco Throwdown and Tequila Tasting runs 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 12, at The Grey Eagle, 185 Clingman Ave. General admission is $10. VIP tickets, which include a taco from each vendor and a flight of tequila or beer, are $35. For tickets, visit

Service Industry Luncheon at Table

Table will conclude its current community-driven, charity-based event series with a Service Industry Luncheon. Proceeds will benefit Children of Restaurant Employees, a nonprofit that offers support to the children of food and beverage employees who are dealing with life-altering circumstances or conditions. According to a press release, the five-course luncheon will abandon the pretension often associated with fine dining, opting instead for “a damn good time.” Along with the meal, guests will be able to partake in blind tastings and pairing challenges. The press release notes that a post-dinner party will be held at The Imperial Life, with “discounted bottles of bubbly.”

The Service Industry Luncheon is at 1 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, at Table, 48 College St. Tickets are $50 per person. The after-party, open to the public, begins at 4 p.m. at The Imperial Life bar upstairs. To buy tickets, call 828-254-8980. To learn more about CORE, visit

Asheville Artisan Tasting

Noble Cider will team up with OWL Bakery and Looking Glass Creamery for an evening of discussion and tastings called Asheville Artisan Tasting. Noble Cider co-owner Robin Stevens says the event follows the European tradition of combining breads, cheeses and ciders. “In the [United Kingdom] they call it a ‘Plowman’s,’” he says. “There is something about the crusty bread, the creamy cheese and the crisp tartness of the cider that all go together so well.”

Asheville Artisan Tasting begins at 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, at Noble Cider Taproom, 356 New Leicester Highway. Tickets are $30 per person and are available at

Prime time: Chef Anthony Cerrato of Strada Italiano

On Monday, Aug. 14, at 10 p.m., chef Anthony Cerrato of Strada Italiano will be featured on FYI network’s new series, “The Know it All Guide To …” The episode will highlight Cerrato’s gluten-free bread recipe, and the chef will offer his thoughts on Italian cooking as well as catering to guests with gluten allergies. “[Filming the show] was superintense but a great experience,” Cerrato says in a press release. “I love that I was given the opportunity to share what I know about gluten-free cooking.”

For details, visit

Spoon Bar closes in Spruce Pine

Chef Nathan Allen, owner of Spruce Pine restaurant Knife & Fork, has closed his artisan cocktail bar, Spoon. In a farewell email Allen sent to the bar’s followers, he writes, “I overestimated the ability of this tiny town to support this particular endeavor. We will be relocating our cocktail program to Knife & Fork and our patio.”


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About Thomas Calder
Thomas Calder received his MFA in Fiction from the University of Houston's Creative Writing Program. His writing has appeared in Gulf Coast, the Miracle Monocle, Juked and elsewhere. His debut novel, The Wind Under the Door, is now available.

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5 thoughts on “Small bites: Asheville Wine & Food Festival takes it outside

  1. Curious

    Why would the Food and Wine Festival move outdoors in hot August, with possible threat of rain?

    • Gina Smith

      That’s a good question. The festival has grown so much in the past few years that I imagine the organizers were looking for a good way to allow it to spread out. I will pose this question to Melissa Matthews and Bob Bowles, and we’ll see what they say.

      • Curious

        My perception last year is that it was not well attended at the Civic Center, so there doesn’t seem to be a need to expand to handle more visitors.

  2. Gina Smith

    Curious, here is a reply to your question from festival public relations manager Melissa Matthews: “Actually, the festival began outdoors years ago… a return to the outdoors in our mild climate here in the mountains was something that was sought by many. Staging an event in an indoor venue brings different aspects of consideration than the appeal of tents and benches in an al fresco venue, which offers opportunity for other forms of entertainment. We listen to all our attendees and vendors, and hope to provide such an expansion of entertainment year after year. Thank you for your inquiry!”

  3. Don

    hummm, let’s see…. the civic center is a dump with an unpleasant institutional vibe….. kind of a no brainer.

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