Cheese and wine are primping for their spotlight as one of the biggest festivals in the region returns this weekend to Riverbank.
The Riverbank Cheese & Wine Exposition celebrates its 39th year of street fair fun. The event this year brings back craft beer tastings – by popular demand, according to its website.
Locally produced cheeses will be available for tasting, along with an array of Central Valley wines and imports. The city of Riverbank took over the festival last year and hired event promoter Chris Ricci, known for putting on the annual summer concert blowout X-Fest in downtown Modesto.
“Working on Riverbank Cheese and Wine has been one of the most satisfying experiences of my career,” Ricci said in an email interview, adding that a chance to show his company’s ability to present family- and community-oriented events is one of his “primary focuses for the future.”
Tasting tickets can be purchased at www.riverbankcheeseandwine.org and at Cruiser’s convenience stores on Patterson Road and Third Street in Riverbank and McHenry Avenue and Briggsmore Avenue in Modesto.
After organizing his first Cheese & Wine Expo, Ricci said adjustments have been made to address issues like long lines and discomfort from potentially warm weather.
More staffing will be set up when gates open, he said. Additionally, “our artisan cheese tent had lines that we felt were too long so this year cheese will be paired directly with their appropriate wine partners to eliminate the lines. Finally the area we picked was too hot, and so we moved to the Masonic Hall where part of the tasting will have air conditioning available for our customers.”
Also on tap are more than 100 vendors selling crafts, art and food, along with a family fun zone for children, a full carnival, a car show and live music.
New to the expo this year will be dancing horses in the Hispanic Heritage area beginning at noon, as well as a skateboarding demonstration, taking advantage of the festival’s proximity to the skate park.
“When you add a professional skateboarding competition into our carnival and our kids zone, you have a whole lot of activities for families to enjoy in one place at one time,” Ricci said of the free demonstrations which also take place Sunday beginning at noon.
Food vendors will sell such treats as gyros and funnel cakes.
Key to the fest remains sampling wines, with multiple tasting sessions each day. Tasting tickets are $20 in advance, $30 at the event; general admission to the festival is free.
The city took over the expo last year from the Riverbank Rotary Club to save the popular event from extinction. Ricci and staff secured sponsorships to help fund the large-scale undertaking.
Sue Fitzpatrick, the city’s parks and recreation director, told The Bee after last year’s successful outing that attendance was high – estimating it at around 20,000 over the two days – and that the event did better financially than the break-even hopes shared by the City Council.
“Our goal was to at least break even. Thanks to our many sponsors, we did even better than that, with $5,500 left. No city funds were needed, as revenue from the event covered all of the expenses,” Fitzpatrick told The Bee last year, adding the extra money would go toward the 2015 festival.
Pat Clark: 209-578-2312
Riverbank Cheese & Wine Festival
When: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. Saturday and Sunday
Where: Sante Fe and Third streets, downtown Riverbank
Admission: Free general; $20 in advance for tasting, $30 at the event