The 3rd Annual Cumberland Gap Arts & Wine Festival was dubbed a success just before 11 a.m. on June 25.
That’s the moment author and artist Lela Buis of Knoville determined that her booth sales had covered her investment and from then on, “It’s all profit,” she said, smiling and indulging in a bit of self-affirmative applause.
It was no surprise to hear, since not quite an hour into the festival that was held along Colwyn Street, there was considerable traffic for a mountain town where, according to co-organizer Tony Gamble “people around here don’t get to moseying’’ before 10:30 or 11 o’clock, really.”
Gamble, who lives in Pineville, Kentucky, added, “We had this last year and it was really good.”
He serves as president of the Cumberland Gap Artist Coop and makes the 15-mile trek along US-25E on a regular basis.
“I was raised up in Pineville and then I’ve been gone for 37-38 years and I retired and started doing this. I got wrapped up in it and now I’m running it,” he said.
Just 30 minutes later, the wine-tasting tents set up in a side area near the entertainment stage were crowded, with a consistent wait time for pours. Wristbands were $10; purchasers received commemorative stemware and set numbers of pours, the depth of which were determined by generosity of the hosting wineries.
Wine by the bottles could be purchased at an average of $19 each from Good Water Vineyards, based in Mosheim with a tasting room in Gatlinburg. The vineyard has been growing grapes for 20 years.
First pour at the booth hosted by vineyard owner Laura Poland was a pear wine, ‘Pearadice,’ at 12 percent alcohol and dry, or semi-sweet. ‘Lost Guide,’ a semi-sweet red, made from concord grapes followed, then a sparkling sweet rose, ‘Rooster Tail,’ named after a rapid on the Pigeon River and a popular purchase among tasters.
“We have three or four wines named after rapids. It’s also for my best friend who survived cancer. They took her fly fishing and it’s called ‘Casting for Awareness’ and they take breast cancer survivors and teach them how to fly fish. I made it for her because the rooster tail fly is kind of pink – it’s supposed to look like a rainbow trout. And it’s also a rapid, so that’s why we use a native grape,” Poland said, never stopping her pours as she talked.
‘Everything’s Peachy’ was described by Poland to her guests as a white grape wine, sweetened with peach juice. A surprise taste came from the port style dessert wine made from the Noble strain of muscadine.
“It’s a sweet wine, very ‘grapey,’” Poland said.
The tasting ended with ‘Double Reactionary,’ a blueberry wine sweetened with blackberry juice, a showstopper in its own right.
The festival is hosted by the Cumberland Gap Artists’ Coop and had an estimated 30 vendors on site, a number of whom were artist members. The Coop hosts several festivals per year.
Member artist and festival volunteer Faye Hardin walked from an outer parking area to her station inside the cool gallery, a prime escape from the 86-degree temperatures that, even with the mountain breezes, melted the freshly churned ice cream from first-time vendor Chocolate Elegance out of Kingsport before napkins could be adequately deployed.
Hardin has been with the Coop for two years.
“I’m saying it’s a success if you can’t find a parking spot,” Hardin said.
Jim Thompson is a director of the festival and a pottery artist. He said the preparation began in February. More than 135 emails were sent out and the volunteers were happy with the responses.
“In this little place, it’s amazing,” Hardin said.
The artist members take turns running the gallery, a well-organized and aesthetically pleasing space for both creators and visitors.
“The thing about working in here and taking your turn is that you can always point out your stuff,” Hardin said. “Do you need an Indian headdress today?”
Upcoming festivals in the picturesque – and friendly – town include the Cumberland Gap Folkfest, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Aug 13.
The mission of the festival is to celebrate the people and culture of the area.
The Harvest Moon Festival will be held from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 24, sponsored as well by Nine Lakes Wine Country, an indication another tasting is on the horizon.
The festivals are held as a way for folks from Northeastern Tennessee, Southwestern Virginia, and Southeastern Kentucky to gather in celebration with the beautiful Cumberland Gap Historical Park as a backdrop.
This popular festival will feature three wineries from Appalachian Region Wine Producers Association.
Festivals often feature Appalachian works of the many tristate area artists and artisans, and vendors with a wide range of product creations.
The Cumberland Gap Artist Coop is a non-profit 501 (c) (3) organization with a mission to promote Appalachian Arts & Crafts in the tri-state area.