A family and friends phenomenon for nearly 30 years, the Virginia Wine and Garlic Festival attracts garlic lovers old and young to Rebec Vineyards in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains. For two days they revel in the love of all things garlicky, from garlic braids to garlic burgers, and sample fine Virginia wines while tappin’ their toes to great music and shopping for handcrafts extraordinaire.
It may be stinky, but it sure is fun! You can’t come to the Festival and not meet one of the large extended family of Richard Hanson, the founder of Rebec Vineyards and the Garlic Festival. Together with Rebec Vineyards’ vintner, Svetlozar Kanev, and an army of volunteers, the family makes the Garlic Festival hop and jive from one spicy year to the next!
Just how did this festival first planned for around 300 guests mushroom to a major event attracting over 20,000 annually? It’s serious stinkin’ teamwork and fabulously fantastic fans! Here’s the story: An out of the box thinker from way back, Richard Hanson, ignored everybody who said “you can’t grow good wine grapes in Virginia” when he started planning the vineyard in 1976. Three years later the family planted Rebec’s first vines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Pinot Chardonnay, and Johannesburg Riesling and produced wine in 1987. It is amid these rows that vendors past and present ply their wares, whether artistic or odiferous at the Garlic Festival.
As if he didn’t have enough to do tending the vineyard, making award-winning wines and growing a successful business, Hanson (now in his 90’s) hatched a plan to host a festival as well. So when a state agriculture representative approached Hanson about hosting a festival to promote a new “boutique” Virginia crop, garlic, he embraced the idea. Believing wine and garlic to be a perfect compliment to one another, his festival was born.
The first year of the festival, 1991, Hanson and his family expected a small group of 300 people, but (oops) stinkin’ 3000 arrived! Because he believed that cooperation builds strength, as the years passed and more people came, he invited more wineries to join Rebec, Stonewall and Mountain Cove—the Garlic Festival original three. He added more stages with entertainment from festival beginning to end on each stage. In year five, the festival “exploded,” not due to garlic gone wrong but because the New York Times mentioned the festival as a “not to be missed” event in a travel article on the Blue Ridge Parkway. Suddenly garlic frolickers from as far away as Phoenix and Freeport phoned for tickets. Tour buses turned up (posing a perplexing problem for the parking people). As the festival grew, more hands were needed so Hanson invited the Amherst Rotary Club to help as a way of raising money for their education projects. Still, the festival is very much a family endeavor and the Hanson’s daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, close friends, the Rotarians, and Rebec’s vintner Svet Kanev, and staff make the Wine and Garlic Festival feel like a place where time is a friend, filled with good tastes and fun, and infused with the beauty of autumn in Virginia.
Not to mention— creating a stinky but safe, vampire-free zone for Central Virginia!