United States of America
WELCOME TO GRAPEVINE
My mind races; perhaps I’ll be experiencing ancient tea ceremonies in the Bhutanese mountains or forging an Arctic path in a luxury icebreaker. There have even been hushed talks of Virgin Galactic taking adventurous journalists on missions to space. Texas, however, is not what I consider an exotic destination. And Grapevine, frankly, sounds like a fake place.
So when I’m invited to journey to the small Texan town of Grapevine to cover a wine festival, I have to read the email twice. Grapevine, Texas. Alas, I’m indeed going to a small intersection between Dallas and Fort Worth that is—apparently—going to knock my socks off. Skeptically, I begin to pack.
As a proud cityslicker from the Yankee part of the US, Texas is quite far off my radar. I’m not into trucks, boots, guns, or livestock, so I normally opt for the saucy Barcelona subculture or the untread beaches in the Marquesas. But all cynicism melts away as I get into my Uber and am met with a warm Texan welcome.
“Oh man, you’re going to GrapeFest? I’m so jealous,” the ridiculously chipper driver, named Shannon, says with genuine excitement. “I’m driving all morning to make some extra cash so I can get down there myself and have-a-time!” According to Shannon, Grapevine—and GrapeFest—is kind of a big deal.
Shannon drops me at the end of Grapevine’s Main Street and that’s when I realise just how big of a deal it is. As far as the eye can see, Bacchanalian revellers are pouring through the barriers and into GrapeFest. I take a deep breath and enter the beautiful chaos.
Surprisingly, Texas is the fifth largest wine producer in the US and GrapeFest is one of the largest wine festivals in the world. What can you find here? Magical bubble lounges where you can sip on sparkling wine while being serenaded; the People’s Choice Award where you can sample over 100 local wines and submit your vote for the best of the bunch; and the famous grape stomping competition (which is harder and just as fun as it sounds).
Click play to watch
With or without this lively wine festival, Grapevine is a charming, somewhat magical town. Home to a classic Main Street with kitsch eateries, store owners who welcome you with “howdy!”, and a Glockenspiel clock that features an animatronic gunslinger shoot-out when it strikes 12; kids run free without worry, and adults sit in the shade talking about how lovely the weather is. People smile here.
I was wrong about Texas—it’s very exotic, and a welcome departure from the more dismissive American states.
Grapevine was founded in 1844 a year after General Sam Houston made a peace pact with 10 of the Indigenous native tribes—making it one of the earliest settlements in the country. Since then it has been the cantaloupe capital of the world (albeit briefly), home to Bonnie and Clyde, and a world-class wine hub.
Whether you’re a vino amateur, a wine enthusiast or a fully-fledged sommelier, there’s something for everyone here. After a few hours of drinking, I need a food break so I jump into a charcuterie board design class where we, yes, learn how to zhush up our house party offerings. I then stop by a wine glass workshop where I get the lowdown on what wines should be served in which glasses. Hint: full-bodied white wines, like aged chardonnay or viognier, are better in a large bowl because it emphasises the creamy texture. Honestly, this blows my mind—the glass shape changes the taste significantly.
Besides all the drinking, eating is also somewhat of a religion in Grapevine. I discover that a stop by the Grapevine Main train station is a must-do if you want epic views and a first-class food haul. You can even jump on stage for some live band karaoke, which is more than we can say for most train stations. Later I join the party at Esparza’s for authentic Tex-Mex that will satisfy even the biggest southern food connoisseur. I think I'm officially a Grapevine convert.
But what makes this place so unique is its perfectly preserved small town vibe. Walking down main street is like stepping back into a bygone western. Fancy trying your hand at a bona fide turn of the century printing press? You can do it at the Grapevine Historical Museum. Really into rodeos? Come see one of the longest running rodeos in the state. Love a honky-tonk? Billy Bobs Texas is the world’s largest. The streets here are a livewire of energy and are packed with characters that bring this western town to life.
It’s rare to find a place with such genuine hospitality. It’s like the entire town is a Disney set—that’s how welcoming Grapevine is. And while this small pocket of Texas wasn’t on my radar before, it’s definitely on my travel recommendation list now. Especially for all the wine lovers out there.
FOR THREE CRAZY DAYS IN MAY GRAPES ARE PUT BACK ON THE VINE AND IT’S ALL ABOUT THE HOPS!
With live music, acrobatic buskers, an amusement park, beer nosh and over 150 breweries showcasing their craft, Grapevine well and truly converts to Hopville.
We begin our day at the Tastes of Texas, a cordoned off zone with over a hundred different brews from fifty Texan craft geniuses. Brunch begins with a can of Doug, a delicious DDH NEIPA from Dallas’s Outfit Brewing. Doug has some kick at 7.1% and it’s a big day ahead so I decide to stick with the smaller taster glasses. Nine tasters later I tell everyone within earshot I’m moving to Texas.
It’s time to eat and we amble up Grapevine’s main street, now teeming with beer lovers. A guy driving and playing a piano on wheels cruises past and a busker in the distance looks to be standing on his partners head. I question whether the beer is making me see things.
There are food trucks parked down the centre of the street handing out all kinds of festival grub. We opt for the VIP Brews and Bites experience, an eight course beer and food matching extravaganza from the team at Shannon Brewing Company. There’s an educational side to it all but to be honest by the fourth taster my attention span is limited.
This year is also the inaugural Craft Brew Experience, a marquee with over one hundred more breweries from around the USA showing off their best. It’s been a pretty solid start to the day already, but we’re in Texas where everything is bigger so after a pickle shot at legendary Grapevine bar AJ’s I enter the fray like a drunken kid in a candy store.
I’m joined by Neil a qualified Cicerone, or “beer sommelier”. Neil’s beer palate is educated but when he suggests a sour my experienced palate takes over and I lose him quickly. I vote a hazy pale ale named Pseudo Sue from Toppling Goliath Brewing Co in Iowa my beer of the day, but let’s be honest after AJ’s pickle shot nothing really tastes the same.
I’m up early the following morning with a haze in my head no where near as pleasurable as Pseudo Sue. I have a vague recollection of drinking a martini in a speakeasy bar hidden behind a phone booth. My GoPro is nowhere to be seen and my Instagram has a story I have no recollection posting. I look damn happy though, arm in arm with Neil singing along with Little Texas, the headline band, rocking out on the main stage. It is exactly what a beer festival should be.
Footnote – GoPro was returned with even more unusual footage.
GRAPEVINE'S 30th ANNUAL MAIN STREET FESTIVAL
A Craft Brew Experience
May 17, 18 and 19th May 2024.
Grapevine is 10 minutes from DFW airport in Texas which has international and domestic flights daily. Taxi, Uber or TEXRail train for US$3.
Built at the start (or end if you double back) of Grapevine’s Urban Wine Trail this property is all about vino. With lux rooms and a pumping central bar, Hotel Vin, is also connected to Harvest Hall, a European style food hall. Drink, gorge, karaoke and see if you can find the secret Speakeasy.
Hint: make a call in the phone booth.
American Airlines just announced they will be operating daily nonstop flights from Auckland, New Zealand to Dallas-Fort Worth starting Oct. 29th. Kiwi’s rejoice!
Grapevine is a classic American town where most of its attractions can be found on Main Street, which is easy to explore on foot. Taxi, Uber or train service can bring you to Fort Worth or Dallas which are about 40 minutes away.