There will be no mass gathering on the Walnut Street Bridge for Wine Over Water this year, but you might be surprised by how much organizers of the signature fundraiser for Cornerstones Inc. have in store instead.
You'll just have to rethink your preposition. "Over" may not work for this year's mostly virtual events, but there's no reason Wine [Near / Beside / Next To / Around] Water can't be just as fun, says spokeswoman Amanda Carmichael of Chattanooga public-relations firm Mace+Carmichael.
"We're doing some historic tours and other things we've never done before — well, everything is stuff we've never done before," she concedes. "But these are some pretty neat things."
Now in its 26th year, the food and wine festival has been one of Chattanooga's premier fall events, often selling out several days before the white tents of food and drink vendors begin popping up across the span of the almost 2,400-foot-long pedestrian bridge. Carmichael says 2,500 tickets are sold in a normal year, and another couple hundred are made available to volunteers, suppliers and sponsors, as well as to the six or so bands that provide pockets of musical entertainment as the crowd strolls for samples from more than 100 world wineries and a dozen local restaurants.
But this is no normal year. It was clear months ago that Wine Over Water COVID Edition would have to be completely reimagined. Originally, planners booked Coolidge Park with "an elaborate plan of big social-distancing circles marked throughout," says Carmichael. "But even as safe as we could make it, according to the guidelines, we didn't want to risk anything.
"You hate to give up on something that's been around 25 years," she says. "Eventually we decided this is the best and smartest and most socially responsible thing for us to do."
The expanded slate of events, running Monday, Sept. 28, through Sunday, Oct. 4, will include behind-the-scenes virtual tours of Ruby Falls, the Tivoli Theatre and the Chattanooga Choo Choo's Terminal Station, a virtual wine night, virtual cooking classes, a social-media-engaged picnic and a three-course takeout dinner from St. John's Restaurant. If you're looking for a night out, Easy Bistro & Bar will offer a wine flight in its new location.
Michelle Richards, sommelier at St. John's, says the takeout dinner is an extension of a new initiative the restaurant has begun to promote wining and dining at home with an assist from St. John's wine and culinary experts.
"Since we cannot do wine dinners, being social distanced and not getting 30 people into one room, we have the Stay Soiree," Richards says. "[Customers] get a three-course meal for two people, and it's paired with half bottles of wine for each course."
The meal is accompanied by an email with reheating instructions and tasting notes from Richards that they can read or watch in a brief video.
"That's the whole concept," says Richards. "You don't have to think at all. We've all been quarantined. We've all done the dishes. We've all done the cook, cook, cook, and everybody's tired of that. With Stay Soiree, we're curating dinner without you having to do anything."
Carmichael says she's been heartened by the spirit of cooperation and the new collaborations that have resulted from the revamped festival, especially since they've found a way to still involve restaurants, an industry that's especially struggling during the pandemic.
"Wine Over Water does so much for the local economy, giving these small restaurants good marketing opportunities and allowing wine brands to get in front of a lot of people," she says. "It does a lot for the partners we've had over the years. We wanted to still support all of them, and we'll be able to do that a little bit."
The historic tours serve as a reminder of the work done by Cornerstones, Chattanooga's only nonprofit historic preservation organization. Among its projects is the preservation of the Chattanooga Choo Choo's Dome Building. The virtual tour will go into the attic space of the 85-foot arch.
Carmichael says she knows these placeholders "can't replace the big main event on the bridge, but at least there's something to keep the spirit alive."
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Find links to register at wineoverwater.org/live-tickets.
› Virtual cooking class: Family Dinner Night with Amanda Varnell of Dish T’Pass, 5:30-7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29. Three-course menu for four with cocktail pairings for parents and mocktails for the kids. $100 for instructions and ingredients (alcohol not included), $35 for instructions only.
› Virtual wine night: Common House sommelier Erin Scala and T. Scott Smith of Pfeffer Torode Architecture describe the connections between architecture and wine with Bastioni Dei Collazzi chianti (find it at Riverside Wine & Spirits), 6-7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29. Talk highlights the former YMCA building at 1517 Mitchell Ave., a 1929 Italian Renaissance Revival structure set to become the modern social club Common House Chattanooga in 2021. $50.
* St. John’s Stay Soiree: Three-course meal for two prepared by executive chef Patrick Sawyer paired with a chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon and merlot from Duckhorn Vineyards, evening of Thursday, Oct. 1. Sommelier Michelle Richards will provide tasting notes via video. $250 per couple.
* The Perfect Picnic: Pick up a gourmet picnic lunch for four, curated by Michelle Wells of Events With Taste, between 10 a.m. and noon Saturday, Oct. 3, to continue the Wine Over Water tradition of fine food and wine outside on the first weekend in October (must place orders by Thursday, Oct. 1). Snap photos of your outing and tag WOW for use in a recap video. $80 (includes two cans of Obsession wine).
* Virtual cooking class: Champagne Brunch with Amanda Varnell of Dish T’Pass on Zoom, 10-11:30 a.m. Sunday, Oct. 4. $75 for instructions and ingredients for two $150 for four (alcohol not included); $35 instructions only.
* Easy Bistro & Bar Special WOW Week Wine Flight: Celebrate the restaurant’s first week in the new location in the West Village with an in-restaurant wine flight featuring Domenica Amato Fiano 2018, Matthiasson Village chardonnay 2019, Lost and Found red blend 2017, Emmitt Scorsone Old Vines cabernet 2018. $25.
* Virtual tour of Ruby Falls: Discover the history behind the famous waterfall and castle in half-hour tour. $40. First 30 ticket purchases come with two passes to tour the Chattanooga Whiskey Experimental Distillery.
* Virtual tour of Chattanooga Choo Choo Terminal Station: Learn the 100-year-history of this travel hub and get a peek of the attic space in the dome. $25. First 30 purchases include $10 gift certificate to Gate 11, a microdistillery within Terminal Station.
* Virtual tour of Tivoli Theatre: Learn the history and architectural details that earned the structure the nickname “Jewel of the South.” Price to be determined.