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04 May 2022
By Michael Scalzo
A regional tourism leader has described his feeling of exhilaration as Victoria’s longest-running food and wine festival regained its destination-event status.
Grampians Tourism chief executive Mark Sleeman said there were days of tears and turmoil during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, when Grampians Grape Escape was cancelled in 2020 and 2021.
But he said to see the weekend’s festival come to fruition imbued him with a sense of ‘relief, excitement and pure exhilaration’.
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“There were days of tears, uncertainty and turmoil – a sense of unknowing for all the local businesses and the event. There were times when we threw our hands in the air and thought we couldn’t go on like this anymore,” he said.
“There were times when we thought perhaps it just wouldn’t get up and running again.”
Mr Sleeman said after a lot of talking and hard work it was nice to see smiling faces again.
“I just want to thank the event’s supporters, sponsors, directors and our businesses for doing such a terrific job,” he said. “It was a very long road over the last two years through some very dark days.”
About 8500 festival-goers celebratGrampians Grape Escape’s return to Halls Gap from Friday to Sunday.
Mr Sleeman said the success of the 29th festival was an opportunity to ‘celebrate’ getting through the past two years.
“To bring the grape escape back to the region was a really special moment. It is just massive for the community,” he said.
“The event has such a strong following with visitors coming from Adelaide and across South Australia, Melbourne and other regions in Victoria, just to celebrate our region’s food and wine.
“I know of some people who had specifically travelled all the way from Queensland for the event.
“The festival remains one of Victoria’s best.
“The thing that sets the region apart from others is the authenticity and willingness of our operators to welcome people to enjoy the best of what our region has to offer.”
A traditional Barrique of Grampians-blended shiraz auction eclipsed its 2019 figure by $10,000 and raised more than $27,000 for Grampians Winemakers.
The event’s 10 food and wine masterclasses across the weekend, the celebrity grape stomp competition and the inaugural Friday evening live-music expansion were other festival highlights.
Mr Sleeman claimed the 2022 grape-stomping title, after a last minute and first-time call up, to fellow stompers and chefs Emmylou MacCarthy and Peter Hilcke, and television host Peter Everett.
Mr Sleeman said feedback from first-timers – historically about 50 percent of attendees – praising the hospitality of the Grampians communities was a tribute to the region’s ‘arms out’ approach.
“Halls Gap just didn’t have enough beds for the thousands of festival visitors and there were buses all weekend between Halls Gap and Horsham, Stawell, Ararat, Hamilton and Dunkeld. The economic benefit of the event hits far and wide,” he said.
“When we come together like this, it is all about the region first.
“We have worked very closely with all our partners to position the region as a must-visit destination.
“Once first-time visitors are here, and they hear about our unique offerings and the passion of our operators rubs off on them – they just keep coming back.”
Mr Sleeman said the fact more than 800 people kept hold of their pandemic-cancelled 2020 and 2021 festival tickets to roll them over into last weekend’s event was evidence of the festival’s loyal Australia-wide fan base.
Grampians Grape Escape festival co-director Vanessa Briody said the 2022 event was a ‘roaring success’.
“With 8500 visitors across the weekend, we couldn’t be happier with how it went,” she said.
“Festival-goers dug deep to show their support after a difficult two years, with many exhibitors experiencing record sales.
“After nearly being cancelled due to the weather, the first-ever Feel-Good Friday ended up being a great success – not a drop fell from the sky and everyone was ready to party. It’s likely to become a permanent fixture for the festival.”
Ms Briody said the event had a ‘bright’ future and would return for its 30th year, on May 6 and 7, 2023, with a possible return of Friday festivities.
The entire May 4, 2022 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!