WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com Food & Wine Festival, 2011 Edition
 
The 16th Annual Epcot International Food & Wine Festival
September 30 - November 13, 2011

The 2011 Epcot International Food & Wine Festival officially opens today, but yesterday was the soft opening and Cast preview. I was at Epcot with my trusty digital camera, my appetite, and my wallet.

As longtime Yesterland readers know, I’ve been to the Epcot Food & Wine Festival every year since 1999.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, September 30, 2011


2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Theme for 2011: “Passport to a World of Flavors”

The first Epcot Food & Wine Festival was in the fall of 1995. The Festival has been back every year, and it’s developed a loyal following. In recent years, to keep the Festival from growing stale for returning guests, there have new graphics and a new theme each year.

For a Festival that celebrates food and beverages (not just wine) from around the globe, this year’s theme, “Passport to a World of Flavors” and the accompanying vintage travel artwork are good fit.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Pointing guests to the Festival Center

Anyone who has ever visited an Epcot Food & Wine Festival knows about the food and beverage kiosks—dubbed International Marketplaces by Disney—which surround World Showcase Lagoon. You can’t miss them.

It’s surprising how many guests don’t realize there’s far more to the Festival, including an extensive schedule of paid and free events in the Festival Center. The permanent closing of the Wonders of Life pavilion on New Years Day 2007 was bad news for fans of Cranium Command and Body Wars, but it’s been good news for Food & Wine Festival fans.

The 2011 Festival introduces new free events sponsored by HGTV. Each Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, celebrity designers from HGTV will present free seminars. What do designers have to do with food and wine? Plenty, actually. The seminars will deal with subjects such as kitchens, dining rooms, gardens, and spaces for entertaining—topics that bring the design world and the food and wine world together.

There are no interior photos of the Festival Center in this article because the Festival Center was not was not part of soft opening on September 29. The first event was in the evening—the First Bites Opening Reception for $175 per person, plus tax. I wanted interior pictures for this article, but not enough to pay the asking price.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Festival Center (the former Wonders of Life pavilion)

An example of much less expensive paid events in the Festival Center are the Wine/Beverage Seminars. Until 2009, the Wine Seminars were free—or, more accurately, they were included in the price of Epcot admission. In 2009, Disney introduced a fee. While it was annoying to pay for something that had previously been free, changing the seminars from a “line up and wait” event to a ticketed event introduced benefits too. The free seminars had become so popular that it was often necessary to get in line an hour or more before the start time. Also, the same local Annual Passholders filled many of the seats at seminar after seminar; some were genuinely seeking to increase their wine knowledge, but others were just there to drink free wine.

 
Wine/Beverage Seminar Pricing
 
  Most
Wines
High-End
Wines
Advance
Booking
Discount
Advance Booking
Discount
Qualification
before
2009
free free
2009 $8 $8 $3 off TiW, AP,
or DVC
2010 $8 $12 $2 off TiW, AP,
or DVC
2011 $10 $12 $2 off TiW, AP, or DVC,
Mon. thru Thu. only
Definitions:
TiW = Tables in Wonderland discount cardholder
AP = Walt Disney World Annual Passholder
DVC = Disney Vacation Club member

So what does $8 to $12 buy? It buys three one-ounce pours of wine—unless the wine pours will be larger this year, which is unlikely, despite the price increase. (In comparison, typical restaurant wine pours are around 5 ounces, yielding five glasses from a 750 ml wine bottle.) It also buys a 45-minute presentation extolling the virtues of the host winery and their wines. The presenters are sometimes principals from a winery, such as an owner or winemaker. But, more often, they are sales representatives from the winery or from a Florida wine distributor.

Although the current value proposition—three little samples of wine and a 45-minute sales pitch for $8 to $12—is rather dubious, the Wine Seminars can be worthwhile anyway. Many of the presenters are very good at what they do. Some percentage of each presentation is genuinely educational It’s possible to become a more knowledgeable wine consumer. Also, it can be a good way to fill the time between two Culinary Demonstrations.

However, the best reason to attend is to be introduced to wines you might otherwise never try. The Epcot International Food and Wine Festival really is international. Over the years, in addition to wines from U.S. wine regions, I’ve had wines from Argentina, Australia, Austria, Canada, Chile, France, Germany, India, Israel, Italy, Lebanon, Mexico, New Zealand, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, and Uruguay—and I’ve probably forgotten a few countries. The Festival can be an opportunity to try wines such as Grüner Veltliner from Austria, Pinotage from South Africa, Malbec from Argentina, Tannat from Uruguay, blends from fabled French wine regions, or wines from states that aren’t know for wine—all 50 states now make wine (although most states are not represented at the Festival). And the presentations are likely to be more interesting than those with yet another PowerPoint slide of the Napa Valley.

This year, the first Wine Seminar of the Festival is “Eastern Wines (South Korea).” (Too bad I’ll miss it.) Unfortunately, there are fewer wines from other little-known wine regions this year than some other years.

In the early years of the Epcot Food and Wine Festival, the schedule included independent wine educators and Master Sommeliers. Unfortunately, that’s ancient history by now.

I really wish that Disney would seek out wines and wine educators, especially now that we have to pay for the Wine Seminars. I want to learn. I want to taste varieties that I’ve never tasted before. Instead, Disney seems to be offering time slots to wineries that are willing to pay what Disney is asking.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

The Cranberry Bog Display

But enough about events in the Festival Center. Let’s look at what was already available at the soft opening.

Ocean Spray has a cranberry bog display on the path from Future World to World Showcase. A cranberry farmer standing in the bog interacts with guests.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Topiary ducks

Daisy and Donald are ready to travel the world at the entrance to World Showcase. Reversing the stereotype, Daisy packed light, and Donald faces some serious baggage fees from his airline.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Gift cards for your wrist

I decided to buy a gift card to make it easy to go from Marketplace to Marketplace. The Cast Member told me I could buy almost buy amount. The minimum was $5. The maximum was $1,500. I decided to go with $25.

The Marketplaces were all scheduled to be open from 2:00 p.m. until 8:00 p.m. for Cast Members and regular guests. Most Marketplaces were already open around noon.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Let your shirt be your guide to 28 Marketplaces

A t-shirt this year has the logos for all 28 Marketplaces.

Would you like to try one of everything at every Marketplace? Yesterland reader Ed put the details from Disney’s official mobile website into an Excel file. He determined that there are 181 items—54 food items, 17 desserts, 40 wines, 39 beers, 20 cocktails, 5 sparkling wines, and 6 other alcoholic beverages (such as fruit wines and rice wines). If you bought one of everything, it would cost $861.90.

Marketplaces from the 2010 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival that did not return

Four Marketplaces from the 2010 Food & Wine Festival that did not return for 2011

The people who run the Festival do a good job freshening up the roster of Marketplaces and what they serve each year.

Four Marketplaces from 2010 did not return this year—Chile, Puerto Rico, Spain, and the United States. Don’t worry; it’s not a cutback. Four other Marketplaces that weren’t there in 2010 took their places. Two Marketplaces have new names this year.

There are some items that guests look forward to every year. The folks at Disney would have a revolt on their hands if they every dropped the Escargots Persillade en Brioche (garlic and parsley snails) at France, the Lamb Sliders at New Zealand, or the Lobster and Scallop Fisherman’s Pie at Ireland. But guests would be equally disappointed if the Marketplaces and their menus never changed. Along with the returning favorites, there are plenty of new food and beverage choices throughout World Showcase.

My $25 would only let me try a small fraction of the items, so I decided to concentrate of Marketplaces that were new or changed for 2011. Here’s how I spent the $25 gift card:

Cheese Fondue with Sourdough Bread — $3.00
Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage — $2.50
Ropa Vieja (slowly braised beef) with White Rice — $3.50
Frozen Rock Coconut Mojito — $7.50
Calamari Salad with Fennel, Smoked Paprika and Olive Oil — $2.75
J.M. da Fonseca Periquita Moscatel — $2.75
Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney — $3.00

The photos that follow correspond to the list above.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Cheese Marketplace (renamed for 2011; was Charcuterie and Cheese in 2010)

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Cheese Fondue with Sterling Vintner’s Collection Meritage (Cheese Marketplace)

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Caribbean (new for 2011)

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Ropa Vieja (slowly braised beef) and white rice, with a Frozen Rock Coconut Mojito (Caribbean)

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Portugal (new for 2011)

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Calamari Salad with Fennel, Smoked Paprika and Olive Oil (Portugal)

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Hawai‘i (new for 2011)

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Kalua Pork Slider with Sweet and Sour Dole Pineapple Chutney and Spicy Mayonnaise (Hawai‘i)

As far as wines at the Marketplaces are concerned, all I expect are decent, typical wines (if the country produces wine) that pair well with the food being served. The little plastic cups and hot Florida sun don’t provide the right conditions for rare and special wines. The Meritage at the Cheese Marketplace was an excellent value for $2.50.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Scandinavia (Returned)

Another change this year is the return of Scandinavia.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Craft Beers (new for 2011)

Last year was the 15th anniversary of the Festival, so one of the beer Marketplaces was called “15 Beers for 15 Years.” This year, the same location is called Craft Beers.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Champagne

The Champagne marketplace moved from a particularly small and unimpressive booth in 2010 to much fancier digs this year—temporarily displacing Promenade Refreshments and its hot dogs, popcorn, and pop.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

Belgium

Belgium has a comfortable sitting area. I shared a table with some very nice people there.

The Food & Wine Festival has far too few tables. Even stand-up tables are in short supply. It’s hard to hold food in one hand, a beverage in another hand, and eat with a third hand—unless you have three arms and three hands.

2011 Epcot International Food and Wine Festival

A little Food & Wine Festival in the train layout at Germany

At least the little people in the train layout at Germany have enough stand-up tables for their Food & Wine Festival.

 

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Updated February 17, 2012.

All photos in this article: Werner Weiss, 2011 (except 2010 where indicated).