After nearly a decade and seven hugely successful sell-out festivals, with thousands of wines enjoyed and more than £16,000 raised for good causes, Wine Festival Winchester has called time.
‘It’s incredibly sad to have to say goodbye to the festival, but we are proud to have created one of the very best events of its kind,’ comments festival director Claire Quigley Ward. ‘We’re going out on a high with fun memories of an amazing event. We want to celebrate all the many positives from the festival, as well as say a huge thank you to everyone who has attended and supported over the years.’
Quigley Ward cited the ongoing pandemic restrictions and continued uncertainty surrounding live events as key reasons for discontinuing the festival. Mounting costs and administrative burdens due to Covid (including insurance and public health protocols) were further factors. In addition, the festival’s long-standing venue, Winchester Guildhall, has transitioned to host HM Law Courts, severely restricting the building’s capacity to host external events.
The first Wine Festival Winchester was held in 2014 and it was quickly recognised as one of the leading events of its kind. It was described variously as, ‘Magical’, ‘Iconic’ and ‘The best show in the business!’ The festival was widely featured, from BBC TV and radio to Marie Claire and The Guardian, even being cited as one of the reasons why Winchester was ranked top in The Sunday Times Best Places to Live in Britain.
Co-hosts of the event Susie Barrie and Peter Richards, both Masters of Wine as well as local residents, sounded a positive note. ‘It’s been an amazing adventure,’ says Susie. ‘We never realised what this initial idea for a fun wine festival would grow into – it’s become like an extended family of thousands of people celebrating everything that’s good about wine. We’ll miss it, and everyone involved with it.’
Peter adds, ‘We’d love to say a massive thank you to our festival team. It’s been a privilege to work with such a talented, enthusiastic, brilliant bunch. From day one this was a local, team effort and we’re so proud of what we’ve achieved together.’
In response to the pandemic lockdown, while many other events were cancelled or postponed, in November 2020 the team launched Wine Festival Online. This free-access event saw wines sent out to people in advance to taste along, with tasting masterclasses taking place virtually on the newly created Wine Festival TV YouTube channel. The organisers billed it as a chance to, ‘Support our exhibitors and sponsors, and show our gratitude to our loyal visitors. We all need some fun!’
The event was hailed as a great success, attracting record numbers of participants from all around the world. Actor Sam Neill and TV chef Ching He Huang added extra stardust to proceedings, while various competitions, cook-a-longs and Instagram Lives spurred further engagement.
The organisers clarified, however, that the online model was not sustainable long-term for the festival. This plus the ongoing uncertainty surrounding in-person food-and-drink events in winter time had sadly made the decision to end Wine Festival Winchester an inevitable one, despite many exhibitors, sponsors and visitors being keen to participate in 2021.
Full refunds are being offered for all ticket holders and exhibitors.
Wine Festival Winchester in numbers:
- 8 years
- 7 festivals
- £16,500 raised for 6 local charities
- 1 Follow Your Taste app
- 264 exhibitors
- 143 sponsors
- 10,000+ festival-goers