Saturday, July 12, 2008

The event grapevine: July 9-10

On the eve of what will be the 30th anniversary celebration at Nissley Vineyards & Estate, in Bainbridge, Pa., just off Route 441, owner Judy Nissley spent some time on the phone reminiscing about how their signature concert series began and how it has since evolved. The gates tonight will open at 6, with the concert running from 7:30 to 10 p.m., interrupted by just one intermission. Big Band Nostalgia is the headliner, and the winery also will unveil its 2007 Seyval Blanc, the feature wine for tis 30th birthday.

“When we first started . . . this is our 26th season, so it was 1982,” Nissley said, “and we started with something we called Moonlight and Melodies, and we supplied the tents and put tables under the tents and we had only one dance area, but we get small bands and they’d play at one end of the dance patio, the one with the lights on it, and some of the people would dance there, and then they could reserve box suppers and we only did that format one year, because when it rained we had to eat a lot of box suppers [plus] all the time and effort it took to put the tables in place, the chairs, the covering for the tables.

“So we went the next year to bring-your-own-picnic format. One of our problems here, we can’t really do anything during the daytime because there’s not enough shade. We have to wait for the sun to go behind the trees. So the next year we did some on Sunday afternoon and some on Saturday evenings, and we realized Saturday evening were much better so the following year we did Saturday evenings and we gradually increased the number of concerts. And over the years then we finally settled on 10 concerts, which spanned July 4th weekend and Labor Day weekend. This year we backed off again; we’re only doing eight, primarily because it’s harder to get staff on the holiday weekend.

“And the thing that’s interesting about this series is I could see the audience, as soon as we would make an improvement, then the next year it would expand. Prior to doing an improvement, the audience didn’t know. They’d see it and say ‘This is nice,’ and then the next year bring more people the following year. So we did things to expand the audience. One of those things was we built regular restroom. That was one of the first things, and then we added dance patios and put the band under cover, in the barn, where it is now. Those 2 things really helped to increase attendance.

“When we first started, we started with jazz or big band, it was either big band swing or big band jazz, .and the audience at that time, which would have been now back 20 years ago, the audience was people in their 50s and 60s; those are the people who like that kind of music. As time went on, we realized there were fewer and fewer people to draw from in that group, so we started adding light rock, and so we started adding those. That means that now the people in the 50s and 60s, which is our target audience, those are the people who like the light rock, the classic rock, they like variety bands.

“Now we have mostly light rock and variety bands, and we have this year only big bands, and we keep those big bands because there is still some of the audience that likes to hear that, and I personally really like that music. I think big band music is really nice.

“We did try and experimented with some bands that were sort of esoteric, because they don’t play music that’s really melodic; it’s more experimental. Different, but our audience didn’t react well to that because they want to be able to dance and even if they’re not dancing they want to be able to hear the music that people like to dance to.”

Nissley said they even tried classical one year, but “we soon realized that’s done better in other places. In a theater the classical sounds better than it does outdoors, and the orchestra was too big for our bandstand. So we said, ‘OK, well now we’re not going to do that anymore.’

“So we pretty well have stayed with the format we’ve got; we’ve been doing that for a lot of years. Interestingly there are certain bands that really draw a lot of people. They don’t the first time they come here, but by the second or third time they tell their friends, and instead of just coming as a couple, the second year they bring two more couples and the next year they’re up to 20 people. So those are really, some of those bands really draw heavily, and we try to discourage large groups on those nights. Other nights we sell group vouchers for 20 or more, but on those nights we don’t.”

Two of those most popular bands are the SilverHawks (set for July 26) and Headliners (scheduled for Aug.16). “[For those] we try not to do too much promotion. I mean, people seem to have a good time, even when there’s a horde here. But, you know what, 2,600 people is really a lot of people. We’ve had 2,800, so the people are all the way out to the fence and the parking is really difficult, and then the people have to stumble around to find their cars.

"What’s really ideal, we think, is 1,800 to 2,000. If it gets too much over that [it’s too much]. We had [the 2,800] for the band [Nightwind] that played here last Saturday, and because of that there are people who come two hours early for that band because they want to make sure they get in.”

Among the improvements they’ve made on site, Nissley said, is expand the parking lot and streamline admission with the entrance through a tent at the back of the grounds. “The year we had that 2,800 we were taking admission on the roadway. We did a hopscotch thing, going from car to car, but it took too long. They just sat on the roadway too long, and then they got in and we said, “Oh, I’m sorry, we’re full.’ Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, that was terrible.

“I don’t book groups that specifically appeal to 30somethings, and its not for any other reason than the people who are most likely not to have young children -- we don’t admit children in

-- so those most likely not to have young children are people in their 50s or 60s. I know that young people come. In fact, there was a 30 something guy on Saturday night that said to me, he looked at me, and said, ‘You now what. In a three-county area this is still the best place to be on a Saturday night. And I looked at his age and I thought, you know, that’s really nice that he would say that. That’s really nice.”

MARYLAND winery events can be found at this link and
VIRGINIA events at this link. You can find events at the wineries of the BRANDYWINE VALLEY WINE TRAIL at this link, and details on the 11th anniversary celebration amng the wineries of the LEHIGH VALLEY WINE TRAIL at this link.

Seyval featured at Nissley's 30th fete tonight

A glimpse of the crowd at a recent Nissley evening concert.

Judy Nissley admits that she’s more a Vidal Blanc fan when it comes to that or the Seyval Blanc that Nissley Vineyards & Winery Estate in Bainbridge, Pa., produces. But this year’s Seyval is a special blend with a significant role: It will take a spot tonight as the feature wine for the winery’s 30th anniversary celebration when Music in the Vineyards 2008 rolls out its second show of the season. Big Band Nostalgia is the headliner.

Nissley said the anniversary designation fell to
Naughty Marietta when the winery celebrated its 25th birthday in 2003.

“When we started years ago, in 1978, at the very first opening, we had seven wines on our list, and of those seven there are still two. And the list itself has expanded to 26 wines. Now, those two are the only ones we have. So five years ago for our 25th anniversary we featured the 25th vintage of Naughty Marietta,” she said Thursday night. “This year, we didn’t want to repeat that . . . [instead] we wanted to use a dry wine instead of a semi-dry or sweet, so we selected Seyval Blanc.

“So the Seyval Blanc this year now has a the label that says 30th vintage on it, and we were very particular how we made this blend. And we think we came up with a really super wine. I said, if we are going to really highlight it with a special label, it needs to taste really good, so we went through three or four trials on it to come up with the best wine we thought we could get. I think it’s really good.”

One of the reasons Nissley generally leans toward the Vidal, she said, is that it features less oak characteristics. But that wasn’t the case with the 2007 harvest, which found the wines come in with decreased acidity. “And so automatically it’s going to probably be a little more appealing to people because it doesn’t have that mouth-puckering characteristic that you get from the higher acids years. Some people really like that in a drier wine, other people want something that doesn’t have quite so much punch, something more in the California style. I’d say. This one doesn’t [have that mouth-puckering characteristic]. It’s smoother.”

That probably won’t put much of a dent in what’s typically the winery’s biggest seller at these concerts, which are among the region's longest running, now in their 26th season. They generally go through 60 to 90 cases a concert of Rhapsody in Blue, Nissley said. “That’s part of the reason we named it that way. Basically [it was] in honor of the concert series, and it’s a semi-dry white wine that’s very drinkable and is far and way our most popular wine.”