Friday, October 10, 2008

Report From NY Food and Wine Fest, Land on Bouncers and Wine-Glass Necklaces

OK, I admit it. I am, by now, a thoroughly disgruntled crankpuss journalist. But you would be, too, if you had dealt with the thoroughly disorganized, unhelpful, dismissive, press handlers that guard the gates to the first annual New York Wine & Food Festival, now taking place in Manhattan.

I first reached out to the festival because, well, it's a wine and food festival, right? And I write about wine. A lot. So I thought I'd take a look. They had a couple large-scale wine events on the roster I was interested in. I dutifully filled out the Media Application and sent it in by the due date of Sept. 3. Initially, I was assured there would be no problem getting in. I went through two press people who, over the course of weeks, couldn't seem to offer any help. I kept getting referred to different press agencies. There seem to be several involved.

Finally, I was directed to one Robin Insley. In response to my request to be included on the press list for the Oct. 10 event liltingly titled the "Beverage Media Trade Tasting Presented by ShopRite," I was brushed off with a declaration that the festival was not issuing general press passes that allow press to experience all the seminars, events. Well, who asked for one!? Frankly, most of the scheduled seminars struck me as so boring and old-hat, I had no intention of attending. I wanted to be put on the list for a tasting that was actually described as a "media trade tasting."

Oh, said Robin, and directed me to Rosalinda Secondini, an operative at Southern Wines & Spirits who has a beautiful name, but not terribly beautiful manners. Of three e-mail inquiries, not a one was returned.

Oh, well. I decided to show up at the tasting anyway. I've been to many tastings, and usually these things can be sorted out at the media table if you bring along your business card and doing a little bit of explaining.

No such luck. I arrived at the "Target Welcome Center" (what a fright of rampant sponsorship! Target logo lollipop, anyone?!). The vibe was odd. Volunteers were everywhere. Many were large, beefy men with close-cropped hair. I wondered if the Festival had raided the Teamsters ranks for help. Security was everywhere! Large men in dark suits and grim expressions, looking as though they were ready to toss any pretender to the curb at the least prompting. (Some of those watchers can be viewed above.)

I could not enter the Target garden. I had no admittance pass around my neck. I had no wristband. I went to the media credential desk. I was not on the list, as I expected. So I explained my situation and who I was and who I wrote for. The young woman was not moved. I asked, "But isn't the Shoprite tasting a media event?" She said yes, it was, but she couldn't give me a pass. She gave me the number of an associate of Robin Insley. I mean really: what were the chances of catching any of the press people in their offices? They were working the event, of course.

I decided to walk to Pier 54, where the tasting was. Perhaps I could find someone there not so verses in the School of "No." Every ten feet there was a bruiser in a volunteer t-shirt, asking me where my wristband was. Honestly. Why the Presidential-level security? Do the really expect to encounter violent, foodie gate-crashers?

A cordoned alley led to the pier. It was lined with volunteers. They appeared to be trained to look for wristbands and badges, and when they didn't see one, they questioned your existence. I ignored them, and walked on to the front. As you might guess, I had no luck getting in. The man I talked to suggested I call someone who could help me. Now, isn't that their job?

I watched as people passed through. Many were wearing ludicrous wine-glass necklaces, large goblets hanging around their neck. Geez, why not just give them mini-troughs from which to suck their wine?

Whatever. I won't be back. The Festival won't miss me, that's for sure. It's got sponsors galore, and the ridiculously priced seminars are mostly sold out. But next time, guys, if you don't want the media around, don't call an event a "media tasting."

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