Amid the decadence and epicurean excess that fuel the nation's food and wine festivals, a few non-traditional themes are beginning to assert themselves: health, fitness and green living.
The tens of thousands of culinary tourists who hit the circuit this year still can gorge on the creations of superstar chefs and progressive winemakers, but they'll also encounter activities that focus on aspects of life that are more beneficial to their bodies and their families:
•Aspen's 26th annual Food & Wine Classic (June 13-15) will include an "East-West Vegetarian" seminar from chef Ming Tsai; a tasting of biodynamic wines; and a seminar on "Hybrid Living" presented by festival co-sponsor Lexus, which will demonstrate its hybrid car.
•At the Eat, Drink & Be Green festival, to be held April 20 (the Sunday before Earth Day, April 22) at Iron Horse Vineyards near Sebastopol, Calif., the agenda will embrace tastings of wine and produce from the surrounding Green Valley, along with a keynote speech on the environment by National Geographic chairman Gil Grosvenor, a solar-powered performance by a reggae band, and a demonstration of a $100,000 Tesla electric roadster.
•Most ambitious of all is the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival in Miami (Feb. 21-24), which is spinning off its 2-year-old Kidz Kitchen concept into a "festival-within-the-festival" called Fun & Fit as a Family (Feb. 23-24; funandfitasafamily.com).
Kidz Kitchen brought youngsters and culinary pros such as Emeril Lagasse together for activities that taught the basics of cooking; its popularity spawned the new and expanded mini-festival, which is being staged at the Jungle Island theme park 3 miles from the adults-only main festival. The $23 admission fee (children must be accompanied by adults) includes festival events and the regular Jungle Island attractions.
Culinary celebrities from the main festival, including Rachael Ray, Tyler Florence and Jamie Oliver, will be interacting with kids and parents, but their agenda is designed to teach the dangers of childhood obesity and the mechanics of preparing healthy meals. They'll be joined by Alice Waters, who will oversee a permanent installation of her Children's Food Garden, and a variety of local chefs and health and fitness experts who will lead interactive sessions.
"This went from being one healthy seminar a few years ago to creating a whole healthy weekend for kids and family," says Lee Brian Schrager, the festival's founder and director. "I don't think we ever thought it would become as big as it has."
Sip and sup at these fine events:
Aspen, Colo. Food & Wine Classic June 13-15 foodandwine.com/classic 877-900-9463
Austin Texas Hill Country Wine & Food Festival April 9-13 texaswineandfood.org 512-249-6300
Boston Wine Expo Feb. 8-10 wine-expos.com/Boston 877-946-3976
Centreville, Va. Vintage Virginia May 31-June 1 vintagevirginia.com 540-745-3378
Charleston, S.C. BB&T Food & Wine Festival Feb. 28-March 2 charlestonfoodandwine.com 843-722-5566
Cincinnati Wine Festival March 27-29 winefestival.com 513-723-9463.
Dallas Savor Dallas March 7-8 savordallas.com 866-277-7920
Dallas Wine & Food Festival April 23-27dallaswineandfoodfestival.com 214-741-6889
Denver International Wine Festival Oct. 29-Nov. 1 denverwinefest.com 866-946-3268.
Destin, Fla Sandestin Wine Festival April 10-13 sandestinwinefestival.com 850-267-8116