Although the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival draws tens of thousands of out-of-town visitors to Winchester, in some ways it is, at heart, a local home-town festival. It can be a bit of a challenge for someone unfamiliar with Winchester to navigate the town and sort through all the activities which have evolved through the past 88 festivals. Clearly, the Ladies Horticultural Luncheon may not be for you, but are there not-to-be-missed activities? Here’s the first in our two-part effort to help you sort it all out.
The Bloomin’ Wine Fest
First off, if you want to fit in and get with the spirit, you need to wear pink and green — even the most conservative bankers do. And, you should know that the locals affectionately refer to the festival as “The Bloom”. The official website is even thebloom.com.
The Apple Blossom Festival now contains 10 days of activities with over 40 events, kicking off April 24 with the two-day Bloomin’ Wine Fest. Virginia now has over 300 wineries in the state and the proliferation of wine festivals has correspondingly exploded. Some of our favorites (that we have never attended) are a festival dedicated to blacksmithing and wine tasting, one that features muskrat racing, and the Wine & Trotter Festival which features harness racing (not pigs’ feet I was disappointed to learn). So, in this context, where does the Winchester festival fit?
To be fair, the top-tier of Virginia wineries probably will not be found at the Bloomin’ Wine Fest, but then again they probably will not be there with the blacksmiths, muskrats and trotters either. The appeal is spending a spring afternoon sampling wines and craft beers in the historic section of Winchester, listening to a choice of live music in three different venues, snacking on Festival Food, and people-watching. And you may just find a wine you really like.
The two-day event will run from Friday April 24 from 3 to 10 p.m. and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. More details here.
Winchester Ciderworks Orchard Tour and Tasting
A new component to The Bloom this year will be an actual venture into a real apple orchard. On Sunday April 26, Winchester Ciderworks will be offering tours and tastings at their site just outside Winchester. The half hour walking tours promise a wealth of practical information on planting and growing of fruit trees, bloom temperature sensitivity, spraying, pruning, the latest “green” techniques, when and how to harvest, and more. With any luck, some trees may be in bloom, but no guarantees.
After the tour, participants will return to the cider works for sampling and tasting. Winchester Ciderworks specializes in the growing market for gourmet hard ciders. Their cleverly named Malice hard cider (Malus domestica being the botanical name for apple trees) is a favorite of our own craft-brew-aficionado Chef Adam who says he normally is not a fan of hard ciders, but that Malice is deliciously dry. The ciderworks is still new but rapidly growing and you can find their ciders available in a growing number of places. Their tasting room will be opening soon, so the Apple Blossom tour will provide a sneak peek for those interested in ciders.
The Real Bloom
A popular feature of early festivals was getting out into the countryside and touring the apple orchards in bloom. In the 1920’s visitors were encouraged to climb into private cars and have the chauffeur take them on a tour. Today, a drive in the country seems like an afterthought what with all the activities in town. But maybe we should take a cue from the Japanese with their reverence for the fleeting cherry blossoms. I still have a vivid memory of stopping to get spring asparagus from Rinker’s Orchard and being overwhelmed with the fragrance of apple blossoms. Ruth Rinker told me that much fragrance was very unusual, but apparently if the conditions are just right, if you are at the right place at the right time, you will be rewarded with a rarity. Kinda like life I think.
If you are staying here at the inn, we have created a map to help you explore orchard country. Or maybe just set out and get lost. Serendipity has its rewards.