The founders of the Greenwich Wine and Food Festival say they’d like to move their popular annual event to Waveny and hold in the park over three days this coming fall.
Held in a harbor-front park in Greenwich since its inception, the festival has had its last two installments canceled due to the pandemic, according to Suni Unger, CEO of the publication company that owns Serendipity magazine, which puts on the event.
The renamed “Serendipity Wine and Food Festival” would be held on a Friday, Saturday and Sunday with about 600 people in attendance each of those days, preferably in the final weekend of October, Unger told members of the Parks & Recreation Commission at their Jan. 12 meeting.
Waveny itself is “central for our attendees,” who come from Bedford, N.Y., New Canaan, Darien, Westport and Greenwich, Unger said during the meeting, held via videoconference.
“But that’s really our core area and then there are a lot of people—I don’t know whether it’s scaling back in size—but we do draw a lot of national attention, mostly because of the chefs,” Unger said. “But people do fly in, they do stay at hotels, they do stay the weekend. And in the past this has really contributed to the towns that we’ve had them in.”
She added, “I know in the title it’s ‘Wine and Food,’ but we really have not had any problems with people being over-served. We’re very careful with all of that. The crowd is paying for a very elevated ticket, so we get a pretty good audience that is really just really good foodies or want to see some terrific music.”
Proceeds from the festival go to two charities run by chefs—Jacques Pépin‘s foundation and Michel Nischan’s Wholesome Wave, Unger said. A former town resident and past owner of Silvermine Market, she added that the magazine has worked in the past with local businesses such as Karp Associates, Shoes N More, elm, Locali, South End, Uncorked and The Back End, and has supported local nonprofit organizations such as the New Canaan Mounted Troop and New Canaan Library.
Ultimately, Commission members said more details were needed prior to taking up a vote on recommending whether or not to allow the festival to be held in Waveny, such as just where it would be located within the park and whether it conflicts with other events.
Assistant Recreation Director Bill Kapp cautioned the Commission “to consider that this could have a potential great impact on the park grounds.”
“Should it rain that day, should it have rained the day before, when we think about the tents and the stages and the parking and the tables and seating and all that, be prepared to discuss that, because that is a major issue,” he said. “And that is just specifically talking about the park itself.”
Unger said festival organizers have dealt with similar issues in the past. This year’s event would be the tenth installment of the festival, she said.
Commissioners asked about the proposed time blocks (about 5:30 to 10:30 p.m. Friday, 3:30 to 10 p.m. Saturday and 11:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Sunday, though it’s dependent on curfews and noise ordinances), the size of the main tent (100-by-120-feet, with additional demo tents on either side), whether New Canaan would be expected to pay anything to have the event her (no), whether the festival would pay the town money for use of the park (yes), whether the festival paid Greenwich for use of Roger Sherman Baldwin Park in the past (no), how Waveny or New Canaan would benefit from the festival (visibility through ads, and in the past it’s been spotlighted by Martha Stewart Living and the “Today” show), how much money has been raised for charities in the past (more than $1 million total through nine festivals) and why it’s being moved out of Greenwich (the organizers want it smaller “and more VIP,” Waveny is more central than Greenwich and it’s beautiful).
Regarding potential conflicts in Waveny Oct. 28 to 30, Recreation Office Manager Bea Watkins said she’d asked the festival’s organizers to propose other dates since “we had some wedding and other things going on at the house” that weekend.
“I’m not aware whether we can do two things, have a tented event as well as a wedding,” she said. “I don’t think that’s doable. But, not my call.”
Keith Richey, a newly appointed parks commissioner, said it would be easier to schedule the festival if it were held on a weekday rather than the weekend. Unger said considerations such as the chefs’ time make that difficult.
Richey said, “You mentioned people staying in hotels. You are probably aware that there are one or two hotels in New Canaan. So hardly like we’re going to benefit from that. And you said something about the name. Your name currently has ‘Greenwich’ in it. I think you mentioned maybe changing it. Because it would be kind of strange to me if this were called the ‘Greenwich Wine and Cheese’ event. it seems to me they would be getting the benefit of the publicity, and it would just be kind of going by New Canaan.”
Unger said the event will incorporate the name of the magazine, Serendipity, as part of its rebranding and that it could use the name of the town as well in promoting the festival.
Richey said later, that “the activities that I see that we have had have all been New Canaan activities.”
“You mentioned Caffeine and Carburetors, it’s very much a New Canaan thing,” he said. “Our groups in town, they use our parks but you are really—I mean I know you have some association with New Canaan—but this is really not a New Canaan organization.”
Parks & Rec is expected to take up the proposal again at its February meeting.