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Visit Laguna Beach Puts Stopper in ‘Uncorked’

Hundreds flocked to last year’s Uncorked food and wine fest, but a lack of out-of-town visitors undermined support for repeating the event this year.

Hundreds flocked to last year’s Uncorked food and wine fest, but a lack of out-of-town visitors undermined support for repeating the event this year.

Laguna Beach will continue to entice foodies and gourmands with an annual epicurean event in March, as they have since the inaugural Laguna a la Carte food and wine fest in 2011. Even so, the wildly popular signature Uncorked kick-off event, a wine and food tasting on the Festival of Arts’ grounds for the past two years, has been dropped. And the whole experience, renamed Celebrate Good Taste, this year will be scaled back to three days instead of four.

Despite a crowd last year of at least 800 people who paid $90 per person for entry, the event failed to generate bookings for hotels, the primary mission of Visit Laguna Beach, which now runs the event.

“Our overall mission is to attract overnight visitors to our local hotels,” said event co-chair Heinz Hoffmann, chief operating officer of Hotel Laguna. Since local residents made up over 75 percent of those who attended Laguna Uncorked last year, the organization decided to nix the event this year, he said.

Though the epicurean extravaganza originally came to life through a loose partnership of like-minded foodies, they never organized formally to oversee its evolution. It fell to Visit Laguna Beach, then known as the Laguna Beach Visitors Bureau, to market and coordinate the event.

Local foodies had long cultivated the idea of an event to put Laguna Beach on the culinary map. The seeds planted by restaurant owners, managers and chefs took root in 2011 and seemingly flourished. Laguna Culinary Arts founder Nancy Milby notably hosted the kick-off wine tasting event, with her cooking school providing gourmet bites to compliment the pourings of 20 California wine-makers.

The kick-off for 2012 morphed into Laguna Beach Uncorked, where the booths of 25 wineries from around the globe were interspersed with those operated by 25 local restaurants on the Festival grounds. Last year, 30 international wineries and 20 Laguna restaurants offered similar Dionysian delights and was equally well attended.

A visitor samples the wares at last year’s food and wine festival on the Festival of Arts’ grounds.

A visitor samples the wares at last year’s food and wine festival on the Festival of Arts’ grounds.

Even so, Uncorked and did not translate into increased patronage at local hotels and restaurants, Hoffman said. As a result, the organization decided to revamp the event, he said.

Though Visit Laguna Beach did market the event to out-of-towners and drew some in, the numbers weren’t enough to justify the efforts, said chair Karyn Philippsen. The Chamber of Commerce-organized Taste of Laguna, held for the first time in September at the Festival grounds, provides a similar experience to Uncorked, with 29 participating restaurants and some wine tasting, she said.

Celebrate Good Taste will unroll over three days, March 7-9, with chef and winemaker dinners or prix fixe menus at about 20 restaurants, seminars, and a few hotel packages.

The Sunday Gospel Brunch at Tivoli Too!, on the menu since the first year, remains, with Ava Dupree and her Voices in Praise headlining. Purchase tickets on line or by calling 949-715-9713.

Also, after its successful debut last year, the Sunday dining experience at the Sawdust Art Festival returns. Three Seventy Common’s owner and executive Ryan Adams will again serve up a three-course sustainable meal on dinnerware and serving dishes crafted by 20 Sawdust artists to the first 50 people who snag tickets either on line or by calling 949-494-3030.

Additional events hosted by hotels and restaurants will be posted to the website once the schedules have been confirmed.

 

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