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Wine and food festival’s move from party to weekend tastings seen as a Riverland rebranding opportunity

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A shift from a riverfront party to a weekend of individual wine and food events across the Riverland could help the South Australian wine region better market its boutique products.

This past weekend’s Riverland Wine and Food Festival was in its 18th year and had traditionally been staged as a day of wine and food at the riverfront in Berri.

But this year, COVID-19 restrictions prompted organisers to make a last minute change — a weekend format with individual venues hosting their own events, a model which has proven successful for other wine-growing regions.

Riverland festival coordinator Kelly Wagner, from events company Purple Giraffe, said the multi-day format encouraged new venders to participate in the festival.

“There were some that don’t usually participate in the riverfront event because it’s not their demographic, so what this event format did was really offer the opportunity to broaden the market,” Ms Wagner said.

The festival was traditionally staged on the Berri riverfront with pop-up food and wine tents showcasing local produce.(Supplied: Riverland Wine and Food Festival)

‘Coming of age’ for Riverland wine

The new format could be adopted again into the future to help market the Riverland as a wine destination and create brand loyalty.

“What the weekend demonstrated was that the format suits the evolution of the Riverland wine industry and making the region a real wine destination in South Australia,” Ms Wagner said.

Hosting the events at local food and wine venues created connections between consumers and boutique products, she said.

“Having people go to the venues and talking with the providers, it really does build the brand awareness and build the strength of the relationship, and you get to experience the atmosphere of the venue,” Ms Wagner said.

A container with salad, quiche, biscuits, cheese and dried fruit and a glass of a wine
Individual venues across the Riverland hosted their own tasting events over the weekend.(Supplied: Riverland Wine and Food Festival)

Jenny Semmler operates 919 Wines and is a member of the Riverland Small Winemakers Showcase.

She said four of its small winemakers this year participated in the festival and some teamed up with boutique food producers.

“Often the resources required to do the riverfront party is beyond the reach of the very tiny producers,” Ms Semmler said.

Five women sit at a table raising wine glasses with wetland in background
A wine tasting overlooking the wetland at Banrock Station during the Riverland Wine and Food Festival weekend.(Supplied: Riverland Wine and Food Festival)

Model for boutique wine regions

The last minute Riverland festival format has drawn comparisons with wine-producing regions including the Adelaide Hills and Barossa Valley.

“I think it has the ability to evolve into that really successful multi-day format that other regions have,” Ms Wagner said.

“There’s definitely the scope to include this kind of format in future years.”

Tourism Barossa public relations and marketing officer Taryn Wills said its region used a multi-venue model during its Barossa Gourmet — to be replaced with a new food festival in 2021 — and Barossa Vintage weekends.

“We host an umbrella festival and encourage individual businesses to host their own events,” she said.

“What this model does is it allows businesses to tailor their event to suit their brand.”

Ms Wills said it was a model that encouraged experiential tourism and had wider benefits for the region’s retail and accommodation sectors.

“It’s encouraging them to visit and perhaps extend their stay, so it’s a real driver for visitation.”

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