Grape Stomp at Grapefest 2012

A “Vinophobe” in Grapevine (Or “Putting Travel Lessons into Practice”)

Yes, I know the Fear of Wine is actually oenophobia. Call it poetic license. And no, I’m really not afraid of wine, but I am surely not the best person to take to Grapefest, the annual celebration of Texas’ wine industry in Grapevine. I do know a little bit about wine – it comes in bottles…with corks, right? – but I really couldn’t tell you why you might prefer a Syrah with a particular meal. I might not even be able to tell you what a Syrah is, actually. If you’re looking for an in-depth review of Texas wines, you are in the wrong place, I’m afraid. If you’re wondering why even someone who’s not “into” wine would be at Grapefest, read on. We were in the area, wanted to learn about wine and find something palatable, and thought it would be a shame not to visit and soak in Historic Main Street. It was also a great reminder of some important travel lessons that have helped turn ordinary days into fun adventures, whether close to home or a world away.

Lesson One: be mindful of the weather. It turned out to be a wet day. While it never rained hard on us, there was a nearly constant drizzle throughout the day. Not enough to dampen spirits – particularly after a few, uhm…”samples” – but enough to keep the crowds small. Because I try to keep Lesson One in mind, there were umbrellas in the car so we ventured forth into the mist and puddles. I can’t count the number of times the day has been saved by an umbrella tucked into my bag or under the seat but, by now, it may be approaching the number of times plans were scuttled before I finally learned Lesson One.

Lesson Two: don’t let the occasion overshadow the destination. Many people were there simply for the wine; it was, after all, Grapefest! But all of those visitors who never left the wine tent missed a wonderful experience. Meandering through the shops, we found culinary delights, amazing artisans, interesting local history and shopkeepers eager to share their time and knowledge. That’s really the heart of the attraction, and there’s nothing worse than getting home with souvenirs from an event but no real knowledge of the people and places you visited.

With that said, you certainly don’t want to miss the special occasions! Lesson Three: take the time to find out if any local events or festivals are going on during your visit. They’re great opportunities to mingle with locals celebrating their history, heritage and culture, and can shine new light on places you’ve visited often. While the historic section of Main Street is a welcome slice of authentic small town Texas anytime, there are three prime times to visit: Each May, it’s Main Street Days; every September, the city hosts Grapefest; and, every holiday season, Grapevine transforms into the Christmas Capital of Texas – which extends to the nearby mega-resorts, Gaylord Texan and Great Wolf Lodge, and the huge Grapevine Mills outlet mall. (Most events are free but there is an admission during Grapefest.)

Lancaster Theatre, Grapevine, TX

The Lancaster Theatre, part of the Palace Arts Center which hosts an art gallery, movies and live performances.

Whenever you go, you’ll find a funky mix of shops, history and entertainment. The heart of Main Street runs for six blocks, from Northwest Highway (State Hwy 114) to the railroad tracks and Dallas Road, and includes the Grapevine Main Street Art Gallery & School, the Grapevine Opry and Lancaster Theatre (which today form the Palace Arts Center), the lovely town park and gazebo (usually featuring live performances during festivals), the Great American West Gallery, Grapevine Olive Oil Company, Farmer’s Market of Grapevine and too much more to mention. Main Street is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and there are many historical markers throughout, including the oldest building in Tarrant County, the Torian Cabin built in 1845.

During festivals, the street is filled with even more craftspeople, artists and entertainers, plus the enticing booths selling everything from corn dogs and funnel cakes to roasted nuts, crepes and giant turkey legs. Oddly, wine samples and Kettle Korn are not the best mix, but I was assured that a Spanish red wine called Montsant would complement our spicy sausage on a stick nicely. A fact that I still find amusing.

There are a few “Not to be Missed” stops, like the new Grapevine Visitors Information Center, a beautiful recreation of period architecture. Inside, you’ll find the requisite brochures for the area’s attractions but what you’ve come for is outside and above you: the Cotton Belt Hotel Clock Tower, billed as “North America’s only Glockenspiel featuring the Would-Be Train Robbers.” A pair of larger-than-life figures emerges from the clock tower twice daily. Nearby, you’ll find the authentic “iron horses” of the Grapevine Vintage Railroad at the recreated station. Among the collection is Puffy (aka: Steam Engine 2248), the oldest continuously operated steam engine in the southern US. This is the boarding platform to take the Cotton Belt Express to the Fort Worth Stockyards (and back) for more Old West fun and a bit of history. If you go, keep your camera ready and your valuables hidden. Wouldn’t want to fall victim to a (cue dramatic music) train robber! (Between Thanksgiving and Christmas, you’ll find the North Pole Express instead, taking visitors on a round trip excursion with hot cocoa, caroling, and a visit with St. Nick!)

Grapevine City Hall anchors Main Street, topped by a statue of the Night Watchman, forerunner to the police force. Identical statues were gifted to Grapevine’s sister cities of Krems, Austria and Parras de la Fuente, Mexico. You might miss the small “calaboose” on the street corner, which served as the city’s first jail. As the Night Watchman was also the city dog catcher, it’s said the first inmate was a dog!

Grapefest & City Hall, Grapevine, Texas

Grapevine City Hall and the Night Watchman standing over Grapefest.

At some point, you’ll be hungry. We enjoyed Main Street Baking Company and their awesome assortment of desserts, but there are many great restaurants, including the popular “biker bar” Willhoite’s, with a history dating to 1919, and Tolberts for more upscale Texas and southwestern cuisine. If you have the option of starting your day in Grapevine, you should start it at the Old West Café. It’s just off of Main Street, but the hearty breakfasts and homey atmosphere are worth noting. Of course, it wouldn’t be Grapevine without a little wine! There are about a dozen wine bars, wineries and retail outlets on Main Street and in the vicinity.

I suppose the real lesson here is to not let your fears, reservations or perceptions keep you from exploring. A wine festival, on the surface, had zero appeal to me. If it had not been for a desire to learn something about wine (because “a certain somebody” said I should), it would not have occurred to me that I should go to Grapefest. Thankfully, I’m much like a dog, running excitedly to the door when I hear the words “Let’s go!” I will almost always find something to make the trip worthwhile. While I enjoyed the wine, I can’t say I really learned much. At least, not about the wine – that will take more study and, uhm, sampling. Yes. Grapevine, on the other hand, was enchanting.

Grapevine, Texas and its Historic Main Street is easily accessed from nearby freeways, and the enormous DFW Airport is almost literally “right down the street.” Within a few miles, you’ll find a wide variety of accommodations, from quaint B&Bs to the large and luxurious Gaylord Texan Resort. In addition to the excellent restaurants listed here, there is a diverse mix of establishments in and around the area and, as mentioned, there are ample opportunities to shop.

Have you been to Grapevine? We’d love to hear your impressions of Grapevine’s Main Street district, including any of the shops or events where you’ve had a great experience, in the comments below.

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