by Tim Fenster
This summer, Fox Run Vineyards celebrates the 25th anniversary of its annual Glorious Garlic Festival on August 5 and 6. The much-loved event celebrates the harvest of garlic with vendors and chefs from across the region, live music, food and wine. Last summer, over 12,000 visitors enjoyed the two-day event in the middle of the vineyards of Fox Run.
The festival is now an iconic Finger Lakes summer event – but it had a much more humble beginning. Twenty-five years ago, Larry and Adele Wildrick, then owners of Fox Run Vineyards, began a small food festival on their 50-acre winery overlooking Seneca Lake in Penn Yan. It was inspired by the long-running Gilroy Garlic Festival in northern California – the “Garlic Capital of the World.” The plan was to feature vendors whose offerings would pair well with their wines. The event was modest but well-received – a crowd of around 100 people and a couple vendors attended, estimates Fox Run Vineyard’s current President and CEO Scott Osborn.
When he and his wife, Ruth, took over the winery in the mid-’90s, they took the festival to another level. “We started marketing it,” Scott explains. “We wanted to make it bigger.”
That they did. Year after year, they steadily brought in more vendors and the public responded in kind.
The Glorious Garlic Festival is now the winery’s “busiest day, by a pretty substantial amount,” says Ross Kircher, Fox Run’s assistant tasting room manager. The festival is so popular that there is a vendor wait-list and restaurants, craftsmen, artists, cheese-producers and farmers come from as far away as eastern Pennsylvania and New Jersey.
This year, 34 vendors – including local garlic growers Jake’s Garlic, A & L Garlic and Mele Garlic Farm – will showcase their harvests and homemade goods. Garlic lovers will have more than 15 varieties to choose from, seeds ready to plant to fully-grown garlic ready to cook. Local chefs will host cooking demonstrations featuring recipes and garlic-infused dishes, from soups to hummus to French fries. Seneca Farms has been known to infuse garlic into ice cream. “It is a bit of an oddity,” Kircher says.“People like to talk about it.”
There will also be live entertainment from local bands including Blue-Eyed Soul, Rebecca Colleen and The Chore Lads, Meg Gehman and The Influence, and Duane and Dave of The Town Pants.
Because there are relatively few garlic farmers in the area, the festival is an excellent opportunity to try the best of what the Finger Lakes Region has to offer. “Garlic lovers are able to stock up on local garlic and enjoy it in a relaxed atmosphere,” Scott says. “Garlic lovers are passionate. They’re foodies.”
Garlic is a highly-versatile plant – it’s easy to grow and does particularly well in mild climates year-round. The Finger Lakes is not exactly known for garlic production; however, the region does boast at least a dozen garlic farms.
The vast majority of garlic produced in the U.S. is grown in California, Oregon and Nevada. But most garlic is not grown in the U.S. at all. China produces 80 percent of the world’s garlic, followed by India, South Korea, Egypt and Russia, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations.
The plant is thought to have originated in central Asia, and records also show its use as a spice in ancient Greece and Rome. It slowly gained popularity in the United States, largely as a smelly, foreign curiosity.
The 25th annual Glorious Garlic Festival runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Admission is free, and shuttle service is available. For more information, visit foxrunvineyards.com.