Sandyvale wine festival returns to Johnstown
BY KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent
Perhaps the best way to “whine” about the inevitable end of summer could be the literal way: with a wine tasting glass in hand.
The 7th Annual Sandyvale Wine Experience is scheduled to take place Sept. 6 and 7. It will offer ticketholders an opportunity to dine, sample wines, shop and socialize; if Saturday’s weather permits, they can even hop aboard a tethered hot air balloon free of charge.
“This is more than just a festival,” said Diana Kabo, Sandyvale Memorial Gardens and Conservancy’s secretary and event and educational programming coordinator. “We call it an experience because it really is a memorable wine experience.”
The Sandyvale Wine Experience commences Friday with a dinner scheduled to begin at 6 p.m. inside Holiday Inn’s Crown Ballroom in downtown Johnstown. The four-course meal is to be prepared by one of the hotel’s chefs, and all of the meals will be paired with a wine from this year’s featured winery, REX HILL Winery of Oregon.
“This is an elegant dinner,” Kabo said. “Gloved servers bring the plates out, and it’s just a wonderful and unique meal.”
Due to the popularity of this limited seating dinner, those interested in attending are encouraged to purchase their tickets online as soon as possible by visiting www.sandyvalememorialgardens.org/wine-festival/ or by contacting a staff member at Greater Johnstown/Cambria County Convention and Visitors Bureau at 814-536-7993. All dinner tickets must be purchased in advance.
Kabo said she and her fellow organizers are excited to welcome representatives from REX HILL Winery to Johnstown. During the dinner, representatives from this award-winning winery will discuss how they made their wine/food pairing selections.
“Their presentation will be informative,” Kabo said. “It’s interesting to learn how wine and food go together in order to bring out the best flavors of each.”
In addition to being featured in Friday’s dinner, REX HILL Winery will be the winery located under this year’s V.I.P. tent on Saturday; V.I.P. tent tickets can also be purchased online. According to www.rexhill.com, the winery has been family owned since 1982, and they “work to produce wines with quiet power, elegance and eloquence, giving true expression of site, vintage and climate.”
The event continues Saturday at Sandyvale Memorial Gardens and Conservancy.
“What makes our festival so distinctive is its location,” Kabo said. “It’s held outdoors on 11 acres, which gives it an outdoor street festival feel. People really enjoy being outside in the garden setting. Plus it’s right by the river, and surrounded by beautiful hillsides.”
All ticketholders (21 and over only) are to receive a souvenir wine tasting glass upon entry. In addition, complementary wine bags will be distributed to the first 500 people through the gate.
Representatives from 16 Pennsylvania-based wineries (plus Tall Pines Distillery and Old Towne Distillery) will provide samplings. Festival-goers may also purchase wine by the bottle or case; a complimentary wine valet service will be available. The valet service is being sponsored this year by Polish National Alliance.
Food and craft vendors will also be set up underneath the four big tents. Kabo said craft vendors will be selling “everything from caricatures, handmade purses and candy to wine glass art and jewelry.”
Entertainment will be provided by Kenny Blake and Scott Jeffreys.
“They’ve been with us for the past few years,” Kabo said of Blake and Jeffreys. “Jazz and wine definitely go together.”
She added that an accordion player will also be entertaining ticketholders on Saturday.
And even if ticketholders can’t enjoy rides on the hot air balloon due to inclement weather, the balloon will still be on the grounds for viewing and admiring.
“The Sandyvale Wine Experience is a lot of fun,” Kabo said. “It brings people together. There’s a lot of young people who have moved back into the community, and they look for this type of entertainment. Our attendance has grown — it’s a really unique event, and we’re lucky that we have this in Johnstown.”
Proceeds from the event will benefit the conservancy, a non-profit organization that Kabo described as a “gathering place.”
“Historically, Sandyvale has always been a gathering place for the community of Johnstown, and it continues to be because of the improvements that the Sandyvale Memorial Gardens and Conservancy committee has made to the site,” Kabo said. “It’s a beautiful green space — the largest green space — in the middle of the city. We encourage people to support us because of the things that we’re doing there. We offer educational programming such as seminars and a historic speaker series. We also have a dog park. It’s a beautiful site for passive recreation. Children come down to play ball and fly kites. Some people spend their lunch breaks walking the 1-mile loop trail. Volunteers maintain the site, so that’s why we ask people to come to the festival and help support Sandyvale and everything that it offers the community.”