By Keith Lacey
Time flies when people are having fun and the 3,000-plus people who attend the Festival of the Grape (FOG) have had a great time each and every year for more than two decades.
Jennifer Busmann, the executive director of the Osoyoos Oliver Wine Association (OOWA) and chair of the Oliver Tourism Association’s board of directors – the two groups that help organize the popular event – said having a good time in a family-friendly atmosphere remains the key to success to the festival.
“It basically comes down to having a great day in a great venue in a great town in an event that is completely family-friendly,” said Busmann, who is just wrapping up her first year as the executive director with OOWA. “The fact every member of the family can have a great time is our biggest reason for success in my mind.
“It’s just so cool to be able to have every member of the family come together for a great day featuring great wine, great food and great fun.”
For those who have never attended FOG, it’s a one-day celebration of wine, food, good times, community and the fact Oliver remains The Wine Capital of Canada, said Busmann.
This year’s event takes place on Sunday, Oct. 1 in Oliver Community Park.
Almost all of the 39 member wineries with OOWA are expected to participate in the wine tasting component – and between 50 and 60 wineries in total are expected, said Busmann.
The highlight will again feature the popular Grape Stomp competition and wine tasting, she said.
Before taking her new job with the OOWA, Busmann has worked for many years in the hospitality industry in this region and has been a member of the FOG organizing committee for 13 consecutive years.
To see an event that started with a couple of hundred people back in 1997 grow to consistently draw more than 3,000 people every year has been very rewarding.
“It’s hard to believe it’s year 21 already,” said Busmann.
The organizing committee heavily promoted the 10th annual event in 2006 and that resulted in the largest crowd ever to attend FOG, with crowd estimates well over 4,000 participants, but the event has averaged more than 3,000 people over the past decade, she said.
“That’s a really good number for a small town like Oliver,” she said.
Busmann is confident the 2017 event is going to be a huge success and efforts have been made to make the festival grow.
“We’ve made a few changes to try and grow the festival,” she said. “The biggest change has been expanding the number of Grape Stomp teams to 24 … including three media teams,” she said. “This is the most teams we’ve ever had for the Grape Stomp, so we’re pretty excited.”
Busmann wouldn’t confirm the names of some of the media personalities who will be participating, except to say they are “coming from all over the country” and will feature some media members who are very well known to most Canadians.
Oliver’s Royal Lepage South Country Realty has lined up a panel of judges to select the winning teams in the Grape Stomp competition, said Busmann.
As has become tradition at the equally-popular Half Corked Marathon in Oliver, Busmann anticipates the majority of competitors in the Grape Stomp competition this year will be dressed up in full costume, which only adds to the fun for the participants and the throngs of residents cheering them on.
Next to the Grape Stomp competition, wine tasting is the highlight of the day for most adult participants and having between 50 and 60 different wineries involved is another testament to the popularity of FOG, she said.
“We usually max out at 52 wineries … but we’re not going to turn anyone away and I’m thinking we might get as many as 60 this year,” said Busmann. “We obviously want to highlight the wine of our member wineries, but we also feel it’s important to allow other wineries from across the province to come to our festival and be able to showcase their wine in a big event like this.”
The quality of food that will be served throughout the day will remain excellent as numerous local food vendors and many from out of town will work together to feed the thousands in attendance, she said.
Like most events of this size, FOG would not happen if not for a large and committed group of volunteers, said Busmann.
She estimates a total of 175 volunteers will be involved in some capacity before, during and after FOG takes place.
“Oliver is a very fortunate community to have so many dedicated volunteers who always come forward to help us execute large events like this,” she said. “Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do. They are the core of what makes events like Festival of the Grape such a huge success.”