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The Cheese And Wine Was Simply Divine
Barefoot winery had a few options for wine tasters during a wine tasting session at the weekend Cheese and Wine fest in Riverbank. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS

The Riverbank Cheese and Wine Exposition returned to downtown Riverbank this past weekend after taking a hiatus last year due to the pandemic. Although the festival was held in the same area there were some new elements to the event like a new coordinator, a car show and a kickoff dinner.

“Overall the event went well,” stated Parks and Recreation Director Sue Fitzpatrick. “It was well attended, safe and the community seemed to enjoy it. If I had to guess, I would say that attendance was greater on Saturday than Sunday but well attended both days.”

There is no charge to enter the event so it is difficult for organizers to know the exact amount of people coming through the gates. Fitzpatrick estimated that there were 5,000 to 6,000 people throughout the day each day.

Tamra Spade with Simply Divine Events, LLC was at the helm of presenting the event this year. With about 14 people and assistance from staff from the City of Riverbank, Spade expressed that the weekend had a favorable outcome.

“There is always room for improvement,” said Spade. “I spoke with each vendor at the end of Sunday and was told they all enjoyed being at the festival and felt it was a successful weekend and wanted to make sure they were invited back next year.”

The dinner on Friday began at 6 p.m. and was attended by about 60 people at the Plaza del Rio. Tables were set up outdoors for a night under the stars with a five course meal and wine pairing presented by Chef Mangelos, Chef Mora and the culinary students from the Institute of Technology (IOT). The guests were entertained by Fish n’Chicks Band throughout the evening. Temperatures dropped that evening as guests bundled up and the heaters were brought out. The culinary team was challenged by the cooler temps as they tried to get the hot plates to the guests.

“Things are going pretty good and it is a good experience for the students,” expressed Chef Mora about the dinner. “It is a little chilly today but it is good. I just wish it wasn’t that cold because by the time we send the food out it is not that hot like you would want it.”

Chef Mangelos created the menu and the students prepped and served the dishes. Chef Mora is the Culinary Director at IOT and really enjoys teaching the students and watching them excel. Besides the cold weather Chef Mora said everything went really smooth at the dinner on Friday.

“We do a couple events like this a year,” added Chef Mora. “They are having fun over there. They did pretty good. For some it is their first event so they are learning but they did really good.”

The weather was much nicer during both days on Saturday and Sunday for festival goers. The trickle of people coming and going from the three entrances on both days was constant.

The Wine & Vibes Car Show was new this year and had about 60 cars on display on Saturday. There were a variety of makes, models, and colors for guests to admire.

“Overall, this year’s Cheese and Wine was a success,” reported Riverbank Police Services Chief Ed Ridenour. “We had a great crowd that was on par with years past in attendance. I was very happy to see all the families out enjoying the beautiful mild weather. It was great to have the opportunity to speak and interact with the public. I look forward to next year’s event.”

The wine tasting was held at the Antigua Event Center once again but instead of one tasting session each day there were three tasting sessions on Saturday and two sessions on Sunday. There were not as many wine vendors or beer offerings as there have been in years past. Spade explained that there were over 10 wineries with varietals in red and white being served along with an assortment of cheeses from Hilmar, Peluso, Fiscalini, Escalon, and a sponsorship from Leprino.

“The support from our local cheese manufactures and wineries was great to see,” relayed Spade. “This year with the pandemic and shortage of employees wineries were not able to come pour but were able to provide us with wine to showcase. There was appetizers, peanut brittle (26 flavors), olive oil and craft beer.”

Spade shared that there were 1,000 plus guests participating in the wine tasting sessions with presale tickets and tickets purchased at the door.

SDS Brewing had a few offerings like a Mexican Lager, Hazy IPA, and a seltzer. The Finnish Long Drink had some of their citrus soda that has alcohol in it, on hand offering guests another option. 

There were a few stages throughout the event that had live music to entertain the crowds as they mingled and shopped. With approximately 80 vendors there was a variety of things to see.

The dancing horses returned to the event which is a guest favorite and brings a big crowd as well as the Folklorico dancers.

The event will soon be discussed and reviewed, and the planning will begin for next year’s event.

“This was our first year working with Simply Divine Events,” mentioned Fitzpatrick. “The first year is always a learning year. There is a great deal of logistics and moving parts to this festival. Overall they were a pleasure to work with this year. As staff walks the event, we speak with vendors and the attendees and are constantly evaluating so hopefully we can make things more successful every year.”

The Riverbank Cheese and Wine returned to downtown over the weekend after missing 2020 because of COVID concerns. On Saturday morning, crowds could be seen enjoying all aspects of the event, from the free car show to live music on three stages in the festival area, and of course, lots and lots of vendors. Ric McGinnis/The News
The fifth course at the Cheese and Wine kickoff dinner included a rich and creamy carrot cheesecake with roasted coconut. VIRGINIA STILL/THE NEWS
Music students from the Valley Music Institute in Modesto perform various forms of rock music on a special stage set up at the intersection of Santa Fe and Fourth streets in downtown Riverbank on Saturday morning, providing some of the entertainment for this year’s Cheese and Wine Festival. Other groups performed through the event on the Plaza del Rio Stage at Third and Santa Fe, and on another stage set up at Second and Santa Fe. Ric McGinnis/The News