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Winter Wine Festival returns after two-year hiatus; draws hundreds to Elma

While the city of Elma underwent the dismal winter day typically seen on the Olympic Peninsula given the pouring rain and cold winds, the atmosphere at the Grays Harbor County Fairgrounds was nothing but cheerful.

The 14th annual Elma Winter Wine Festival kicked off on Saturday, Jan. 21, inside the Mike Murphy Pavilion. The event, which has been seen as the biggest yearly attraction to the East County town, aside from the county fair, returned for the first time since January 2020 due to restrictions levied from the COVID-19 pandemic.

From the moment the festival doors opened at noon, a constant stream of guests could be seen filtering into the venue drawing hundreds of visitors throughout the event. The festival featured over 20 wineries, a variety of crafts and food vendors, a beer garden, a silent auction, and live music presentations from Backfire Band, Joker’s Wild and The Olson Brothers.

“Overall, I think the festival is a success. We’ve got some new wineries for people to enjoy, and you can easily tell that a lot of us are having fun getting out in public again,” said Jillanna Bickford, the Elma Chamber Director and main organizer for the festival. “I’ve heard a lot of positives regarding the live music, and we’ve received a big level of support for the charcuterie cups, which some of the volunteers are walking around with and saying they’re selling like hotcakes.”

According to Bickford, over 300 pre-sale tickets were registered for the event including 200 couple’s tickets. She was quick to praise the work of the more than 75 volunteers who were administering wine sales, operating the beer garden, giving admission tickets, and working the floor venue aiding vendors or consumers when needed.

Wine tasters had much to choose from to find the perfect blend. While many of the wineries represented at the festival are very prominent on the west side of the Cascades such as Wynoochee River Winery, Westport Winery and Hoodsport Winery, people were also able to get a taste of what transpires in the rich American Viticultural Areas of Eastern Washington.

“It doesn’t hurt being close to the front of the venue and attracting a lot of people’s attention to the wines we have available,” said Justin Michaud, who serves as the winemaker for Coyote Canyon Winery in Prosser. “Honestly, I love stuff like this because it’s not about the money from doing the event, it’s about encouraging people to come to our place in Prosser and hearing that they fell in love with our wines at places like the Elma Wine Festival.”

Michaud talked deeply about the wines he was serving at the festival such as an Albarino white wine and Sweet Louise fruit wine and noted the event reminded him of pre-pandemic days when he would come out to Grays Harbor to promote his wines.

For many wine enthusiasts, pairing wines is essential to getting most of the blended varietal. While the rule of thumb is that white wines pair with light dishes and red wines pair with hearty dishes, almost all wines pair with some form of chocolate, especially when it’s homemade.

“I believe local should support local. All my fruit, goat cheese, and wine-infused truffles are from local farmers and wineries in the area. The first ingredient for everything I make is love because if you don’t love what you do, why are you even doing it,” said Bliss Wunders, the owner of Blissful Wunders Confectionery Chocolats. “I try to make a little bit of something for everybody which is why I do a lot of coconut cream-based truffles for those with dairy sensitivity but in a place like this, it’s hard not to mix a good wine with some chocolate.”

From lavender mint and pistachio truffles to exquisite chocolates infused with Makers Mark Whiskey, Wunders saw his booth constantly packed with visitors perusing to find the perfect sweet treat to pair with the wine they were tasting.

“From the good music to the incredible wines to the cool theme, I’m stoked I came out today,” said Amy Hattin, an Elma resident. “It’s better than being stuck in my home and just listening to the rain and wind, that’s for sure. I got the rest of the winter to do that.”

Contact Reporter Allen Leister at 360-463-3572 or allen.leister@thedailyworld.com

Allen Leister / The Daily World
Bliss Wunders (center), the owner of Blissful Wunders Confectionery Chocolats, stole the show as his booth consistently saw visitors perusing for unique homemade truffles to match with wines during the 14th annual Elma Winter Wine Festival on Saturday, Jan. 21.

Allen Leister / The Daily World
Bliss Wunders (center), the owner of Blissful Wunders Confectionery Chocolats, stole the show as his booth consistently saw visitors perusing for unique homemade truffles to match with wines during the 14th annual Elma Winter Wine Festival on Saturday, Jan. 21.

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