So which one is the best?
Each festival has its pros and cons. Here I will review each festival and explain them.
First what makes a great wine festival and how do we judge them?
My criteria consists of five categories.
First is Access to the festival (walking directly to the festival from your campground or cabin is preferred, driving is not preferred).
Second is Lodging (affordable camping, or cabin rentals next to festival).
Third is Price (how much does the festival cost and what do you get, does this include food?).
Next is the Quality of Wine (is it delicious?).
Finally Other/Hidden Costs (pricey hotels, shuttles, cleaning deposit, additional transportation needed to the festival, etc).
To rate each category I have assigned a value of 1-5. A 25 would be a perfect. Surprisingly my new favorite festival does not score a 25. To be fair I enjoyed each festival but they have pros and cons.
Here are my thoughts on each festival:
California Wine Festivals:
Ojai Valley Wine Festival
($45 early purchase, $60 day of event)
This is a large wine festival at the Lake Casitas Recreation Area. The festival features many wineries and even offers beer tastings. Plenty of food is available for purchase and the festival even offers boat rides on the nearby lake. I have attended this festival twice.
On access I would score this festival a 5. The festival takes place at a large campground and depending where you setup camp, the walk to the festival is not long, however the walk can be a mile or more depending on which campground you are at. The RV campgrounds tend to be closer to the festival area and the tent campgrounds are a tad farther. If you decide to drive there is parking right next to the festival.
For Lodging I also score this festival a 5, as discussed earlier there are plenty of camping areas although the camping will sell out. The festival is large so it may not sell out but I would still purchase your camping site and wine ticket early. This is not a criteria on my list but June in Southern California tends to be very hot.
This festival is fairly priced and if you are able to purchase your tickets early you will save even more money. I would rate it a 5 on price.
The quality of the wine suffered a tad on my last trip to the wine festival and some of my favorites were not there such as Hitching Post. They have an excellent Syrah by the way. I would rate the quality of wine a 4 (might have changed since I have not been in a few years). I recently checked and Zaca Mesa is a new attendee in the VIP section so maybe I should change my tune.
The last category is the only one I rate this festival as poor. Keep in mind that the campground does not organize the festival. I would give Other/Hidden Costs a 3. Camping at Lake Casitas is awesome but they love their hidden fees like: boat permits, canoe permits, pet fee, extra vehicle fee, and more. You can view all the fees here. Most campgrounds could easily accommodate 2-3 extra vehicles but expect to be charged for each extra vehicle. We found that it is actually cheaper to park a vehicle in San Francisco as the weekend charge for an extra vehicle at Lake Casitas is $17 per day. Some good and some bad but if you haven't been you should check this festival out.
Total Score: 22
Wine in the Pines
($45 in advance, $60 the day of the event)
This festival is very different then the Ojai Valley Wine Festival yet very awesome. It is more intimate than the festival at Lake Casitas and less of a drunk fest. I have attended twice. The festival even offers free food in the form of small plates and samples. This is a feature not found at many wine festivals. I have attended this festival twice.
This festival also takes place in June and even though it is in the local mountains the weather can be hot. There are plenty of cabins to rent in the area and most are a short walk to the wine festival. The cabins are affordable if you are with a group but a tad expensive if you are traveling solo. Cell phone service in this area is spotty. The wine festival and the cabins will sale out. Booking early is suggested.
How does this festival score?
Access 5 (easy to walk to the festival, parking is also close).
Lodging 5 (as discussed there are plenty of affordable cabins in the area).
Price 5 (fair price and it includes food samples).
Quality of Wine 5, (Excellent wine including my favorite at Pear Valley).
Hidden Costs 4, (gave this a 4 because cabins usually require a cleaning deposit, and can be expensive if you are not with a group) . This festival almost scored a perfect 25.
Total Score: 24
Colorado Wine Festivals:
Bootstraps Western Wine Festival
($40 per person)
A smaller festival but I was still able to find some excellent local Colorado wine. This festival takes place in August. It was a challenge to find any local lodging that was close to the festival (walking distance, and affordable), Cabins in this area rent for a pretty penny. The festival is now at a different location so the lodging situation may have changed. The weather was nice, warm with a cool breeze. It is necessary to drive to this festival so over indulging is not suggested. We were able to see everything the festival had to offer in under two hours so maybe it was a good idea to save on an overnight stay.
So how does it score?
For access I give a 1 (I was not able to walk to the festival).
Second for Lodging I also give it a 1 ( I was not able to find an affordable cabin or camping in the area).
Price I gave it a 5.
The Quality of wine was excellent also at a 5, (I even found a local bottle for only $12 that was incredible).
For Other/Hidden Costs I give it a 3 as finding your own safe transportation (if you don't drive) or finding an affordable cabin or camping would be tough. Sadly this festival scores the lowest.
Total Score: 15
Colorado Mountain Wine Festival
($50 general admission, $15 for round trip shuttle)
My most recent wine festival trip was to the Colorado Mountain Wine Festival. This festival takes place in September. This is the largest festival in Colorado and it will sell out. There are plenty of wineries and people at this festival. The wine quality and variety is high and unfortunately so are the lines to get into the festival or to purchase food.
Parking is not allowed in the immediate area of the festival as it is a residential area and with the signage, road blocks, and ample cones I would assume that this rule is strictly enforced. Great for the residents but not so great for the wine festival guests.
As mentioned earlier, the lines to get in the festival were very long and the lines for food were quite long, although this can be attributed to the popularity of the festival which could be viewed as a good thing.
The other element that was inconvenient was the lack of lodging near the wine festival. For me the ideal situation is camping or affordable lodging near the festival (within walking distance) and sadly this is difficult to find. However there is a shuttle that picks up and drops you off at downtown Grand Junction for only $15 (round trip). This option is very convenient if you are staying at a hotel in Grand Junction, however it is an added expense in addition to your wine festival admission and less convenient if you are not staying in Grand Junction. The shuttle ride takes about 18 minutes to transport you from Grand Junction, CO to Palisade, CO.
I stayed at the Grand Junction KOA in one of their cabins. They have one and two room cabins that average $60-$70 per night. My cabin even included a small fridge and air condintioning. The KOA is only 4 miles from downtown and an easy cab ride or Uber ride. You can then take the shuttle to the wine festival. The shuttle is $15 and Uber was $8-$10 each way. At the time of this writing Uber is available in Grand Junction but not Palisade. The KOA is still about 14 miles from the festival so this option seems more frugal as a cab ride from the KOA to the wine festival would be about $40 each way.
Another option is to camp at the Island Acres campground (part of the James M Robb State Park) located about 7 miles from the festival. Make sure that you select the Island Acres campground as the other campgrounds in the James M Robb State Park are as far as 23 miles away from the festival. This might be the cheapest option, but you would still need to arrange safe transportation to and from the festival.
So how did this wine festival score?
For Access I give it a 3, You can only walk to the festival if you drive, stay in Palisade (limited options), hop on the shuttle, or take a cab, or Uber.
For Lodging I give it a 3, Lodging seemed like a logistical nightmare since I was looking for something that catered to groups, was affordable, and within walking distance to the festival. Your best bet would be a hotel in downtown Grand Junction near one of the shuttle pickup locations.
Price comes in at a 4.
The wine quality was awesome. Plenty of tastings, plenty of Colorado wine, and most of it was very good. For wine quality I give it a 5.
Other/Hidden Costs comes in at a 4 (shuttle is an extra $15, Uber ride was an extra $18, Cabs would be $40 each way, Downtown hotels would be pricy, Camping is your most affordable option but only convenient if you drive to the festival, Shuttle was awesome (but an 18 minute ride each way and an extra expense) These extras did not bother me and I felt it was still easy to get to the festival but it is something to keep in mind.
Total Score: 19
So there you have it. What festival is the best? Well technically Wine in the Pines, however The Colorado Wine Festival is my new favorite. Honestly I recommend you try them all.
Ojai Valley Wine Festival:
Places to stay:
Lake Casitas/Wine Festival review
Wine in the Pines:
Wine in the Pines reviews:
Bootstraps Western Wine Festival:
Colorado Mountain Wine Festival:
Places to stay: