No rain was pouring in downtown Mount Airy Saturday afternoon as forecasters had predicted — which led to plenty of beer and wine flowing into glasses, along with good times among the crowd attending the annual Budbreak festival.
“God was good to us with the weather,” said Bob Meinecke, coordinator of the event sponsored by the Mount Airy Rotary Club.
Compared to past years, the turnout was noticeably down Saturday for the Budbreak Wine and Craft Beer Festival, being held for the ninth time to celebrate those growing industries and allow the public to sample numerous wares in a singular location.
Organizers said some would-be attendees apparently were concerned about a dire forecast that included an 80-percent chance of rain, and there also were some competing events in the area.
But as the day wore on and the sky hadn’t fallen, the turnout gradually increased, as noted by a representative of the Surry Cellars operation that was offering its products from under a tent on North Main Street.
“It started out slow, but it’s picked up as the day has worn on,” enology technician Lou Anne Gaffney said of customer traffic for Surry Cellars, the label for wine produced at Surry Community College through its viticulture and enology program.
It was one of nearly 20 wine-making and craft beer entities represented at Budbreak, including ones from Surry County and elsewhere in North Carolina.
“We had a couple of cancellations,” said Meinecke, the event coordinator, yet when Budbreak began at noon for a six-hour stint, 15 wineries and three craft breweries were dutifully on the scene. As the afternoon progressed, long lines of connoisseurs were spotted at most vendor stations with glasses in hand waiting to be filled.
As they enjoyed the liquid refreshments, live music suitable for dancing emanated from a stage in the parking lot beside Old North State Winery provided by two groups, Phatt City and The Mulligans.
Saturday was mostly about the beverages, given that the name “Budbreak” refers to a part of a wine grape vine’s growth cycle which signals the end of dormancy after the winter.
“We come every year,” said Katie Tate of Mount Airy, who was accompanied by her boyfriend, John Holt.
The two were lingering near a spot where the Slightly Askew winery of Elkin was serving a long line of eager consumers.
“We come back because we enjoy wine and they come from all over to set up,” Tate added in reference to the variety of operations with a presence at Budbreak.
“They explain everything to you,” she said of the “nice” people involved with the different enterprises who are eager to talk about the wines offered.
‘Exposure’ a key
And while the crowds infiltrating the downtown area for the event were enjoying the beverages and each other’s company, there also was an important business aspect tied to every tip of a bottle.
“It’s exposure,” Gaffney, of Surry Cellars, said of the value of events such as Budbreak.
“We have our students do the pouring,” she said of those enrolled in SCC’s viticulture and enology program.
Not only do they gain valuable experience in dealing with the public, students are able to promote the wine-making craft.
“They’re telling people about the program,” Gaffney said. “So it’s definitely getting the word out.”
Compared to some college majors that don’t offer students the promise of a career, viticulture is a viable vocation — one that has become a key component of the tourism industry.
“The wine industry’s growing,” Gaffney said, mentioning that a student in the SCC program will be launching a winery in 2019.
Recent figures from the North Carolina Wine and Grape Council show that the state is home to 186 wineries, with more than 525 individually owned grape vineyards spread across 2,300 acres. More than 10,000 jobs are supported as a result.
“It’s about a $2 billion a year industry,” Gaffney said Saturday.
While Meinecke said complete attendance figures were not immediately available, proceeds from Budbreak will benefit local non-profit organizations. These include the Salvation Army, Shepherd’s House homeless shelter, Surry Medical Ministries, United Fund of Surry, Mount Airy Museum of Regional History, Friends of the Mount Airy Police Department and Surry Arts Council.
Last year, the total given was more than $18,000.
Tom Joyce may be reached at 336-415-4693 or on Twitter @Me_Reporter.