Early in its regular meeting on Nov. 13, the Riverbank City Council heard a report from local promoter Chris Ricci on the successes of the recent Cheese and Wine Expo, hosted in the city’s downtown during the second weekend in October.
He noted the changes this year. One was the Sip ‘n Paint added this year, as well as a French Wine Cafe, with new wines from France for people to experience.
Another change was a reorganization of the stages this time. DJs performed on the Plaza del Rio stage, with one added at the intersection of Topeka and Third streets, as well as the one at Stanislaus and Third. And all the Hispanic stage activities were held on Santa Fe near Fourth Street.
Ricci said that they had gotten some suggestions, based on this year’s experience.
“One of the suggestions was that a car show be added to the festival,” Ricci explained, but he claimed it had been tried before and didn’t do very well so he isn’t sure they will incorporate that in the future.
“Vendor placement is always a challenge,” he added, “with a few complaining about where they were placed. We try to do the right placement every year, but there’s questions about that, there’s one area we should look at.”
Another suggestion, he told the council, was that there should be more arts and crafts vendors.
“We do have a specific area for arts and crafts vendors and it’s gone over very well in past years, that includes reduced fees for those vendors so it’ll be easier for them to participate,” he said.
Of primary importance, Ricci said, was the ‘evolution’ of the city’s trademark festival.
“It needs to continue to differentiate itself from the other festivals in the area. What we don’t want is a festival that looks just like the Chocolate Festival, or just like the Almond Blossom Festival. We want something that has a unique feel for everyone, and that is something we should push for and continue to push for,” Ricci said.
Sponsorships did “quite well” this year, he said.
“We added some new sponsors, and revenue was up this year,” he said.
The wine tasting area went really well, he noted.
“We’ve got the marketing mix, I think, right where we want it, including radio, social media, etc.”
The decision was made to have a single tasting area, which, he said, led to a decrease in intoxication by festival goers.
“And that’s the most important thing when you’re producing an event, to make sure the public is safe,” Ricci pointed out. “And our decisions on alcohol have made sure that that’s happened.”
Both the cheese and wine offerings have continued to improve over the years.
“This year, there was increased participation by area sponsors, adding to what was offered, including goat cheeses coming from Santa Rosa," Ricci noted.
He showed where wine tasting revenue has been growing over the past three years, and he attributed that to the changes made in the festival.
“One of the areas that we’re not happy with is our vendor income, which is down this year from previous years,” he said. “We were wondering why that happens, so we did a survey of the vendors we had and almost 70 percent said the festival is very good, about 20 percent said it was OK, and about 13 percent said it was slow, so, overall, I’d say it went pretty well."
He said the kids area worked out well, and he also provided the council with photos of patrons enjoying the event.
In analyzing the results, he said the biggest question was why the revenue went down with vendors.
“I think our biggest thing is that we have increased competition,” Ricci said, pointing to both Modesto’s Oktoberfest and the Bloomingcamp Ranch festival in Oakdale sharing the dates with Cheese and Wine now.
“In addition, we’re seeing a real difference in revenue opportunities for vendors at our events versus Bay Area events,” he said.
It’s something that needs to be addressed, Ricci told the council, something that needs to be accounted for and to be aware of.
He added, “We have found that our Hispanic vendors were extremely successful.” He suggested reaching out even more to find vendors that target the Hispanic community, “because they are a large part of this festival.”
Ricci said he has begun analyzing vendor costs compared to other events. He said that, “we need to realize that we are facing increased competition, so that we may want to consider a different pricing strategy” in the future.
“Overall, I’d say we did really well. Every metric that we have to gauge attendance, since it’s a free event, we don’t know how many people actually came, but we do know that this is the highest attended wine tasting we’ve ever had. We also know that our ATM transactions increased, so we do know there were more people.”
He said the kids music area was a success, with families coming out to hear their kids play. He suggested the free activities for kids be increased, with more like the corn hole and similar games continue, to encourage longer stays for families who come.
“We know the Hispanic area was a huge hit and we had more people out there than we’ve ever had before,” he added.
Following the presentation, Mayor O’Brien pointed out that this was the end of the five-year contract with Chris Ricci Presents, so the city will be putting out an RFP, a Request For Proposals very soon to get ahead of the schedule for producing next year’s Cheese and Wine.
Ricci said he would be submitting a proposal.
The Cheese & Wine Festival was first held in 1977, originally sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce. The City Parks and Recreation Department, in conjunction with Chris Ricci Presents, Inc. have administered the event for the past five years. Prior to the city taking over the event, the Riverbank Rotary Club administered the event for seven years and the Riverbank Chamber of Commerce for 29 years before that.