Staff File Photo by Patrick Smith -- Wine Over Water guests sample wines from more than 100 vineyards on the Walnut Street Bridge. Proceeds benefit Cornerstones Inc., a historic preservation organization.
For many of Chattanooga’s signature events, food doesn’t just play a supporting role, it’s the centerpiece of the celebration.
From Taste of Chattanooga to Wine Over Water to Bella Sera, the right blend of food and libations can be major draws, according to event organizers.
For the past 22 years, Taste of Chattanooga has spread a banquet of samples from dozens of local eateries at the Chattanooga Convention Center, said Jennifer McGlohon, executive director of the Kidney Foundation of the Greater Chattanooga Area.
Restaurants are “invited to showcase what makes them unique and special,” she said. “We’ve got a wonderful eclectic mix every single year.”
The event raised $10,000 for the Kidney Foundation this past March, Ms. McGlohon said.
“Chattanoogans love the opportunity to sample varieties from all the restaurants, and restaurant managers know they can make new customers by taking part,” she said.
At Wine Over Water, vintages from more than 100 wineries from around the globe are poured.
Held on the Walnut Street Bridge since 1994, the wine-tasting typically sells out its 2,800 tickets, said Ann Gray, executive director of Cornerstones, which partially funds its historic-preservation efforts with proceeds.
Originally only one end of the bridge was set up with vendor tents, but after three or four years, opening up the entire span was necessary to accommodate the burgeoning crowds and expanding vendor base.
“The rule of thumb they used when this started was to invite downtown restaurants that served wine,” Ms. Gray said.
At that time, only three places — 212 Market, Southside Grill and the Bluff View Art District eateries — fit that description, she recalled.
“That’s how much things have changed and grown,” she said.
The October event draws patrons from 20 states, she said. “Probably half the crowd knows what the cause is,” she added. “It’s more of a reunion for a lot of people.”
That sentiment is echoed by Ann Ball, who serves on the board of directors for Chattanooga Endeavors, which presents Bella Sera, one of the newer events for foodies.
Now five years old, the May event showcases wine and food pairings from area restaurants. It has been held at Renaissance Park the past three years, an ideal location, according to Ms. Ball.
“It all just clicked: the right food, the right wines, the right location,” she said.
The “good cause” — funding services for former offenders re-entering society — is secondary to the people who attend, she said. “You could ask half the people what it is to benefit, and they wouldn’t know. People are coming because it’s a great party.”
Lisa Denton is deputy features editor and content editor of Current. She previously was a lifestyle, entertainment and region reporter/pod leader for The Chattanooga Times, which she joined in 1983. Lisa is from Sale Creek and holds an associate’s degree in journalism from Chattanooga State Community College. Contact Lisa at 423-757-6281 or email@example.com.