Kirkland Uncorked is a tourism event first, and that keeps organizers striving year after year to deliver a great experience.
DEPENDING ON your proclivities, the phrase “wine festival” can produce the need for planning or a dubious cringe. I dislike the thought of crowds jockeying for the pour position, the best wines eating up all my tokens, and scarce, little food in a homely space. Kirkland Uncorked, July 19-21, avoids these pitfalls, hitting all the right notes for a wine festival. Rather than “pour, sip, next!” Uncorked consistently delivers an experience more like a neighborhood block party, albeit a very large block.
Now in its seventh year, the festival began as Kirkland Summerfest, a partnership between the city of Kirkland and Bold Hat Productions, with part of the proceeds going to the Eastside’s Hope Heart Institute, a nonprofit focusing on heart disease. The festival attracts a core of locals but brings many people from outside the area. Uncorked is a tourism event first, and that keeps organizers striving year after year to deliver a great experience.
The festival has doubled in size since becoming Uncorked in 2007, and organizers expect to top last year’s overall attendance of 36,000 people. The layout has changed to handle the expected uptick, but the setting has never imparted a sense of being overcrowded (a clear-blue day near the water gives a big assist). The crowd tends to skew 60/40 female, and their average age hovers between 25 and 40, though it hasn’t felt that defined of a group. Music in the jazz-to-blues range graces the crowds in the evenings and late afternoon on Sunday. You can faintly enjoy it from the free-entry promenade mixing art and fair elements clustered outside the tasting garden. The promenade offers all sorts of wares and a big, family-friendly option.
Uncorked’s food details have also developed. Local restaurants offer bites in the tasting garden during peak times of the day, and a beer garden waits for when your thirst must be gulped away. Organizers have added a Friday-night crowd-judged burger taste-off to the mix, too. Sunday brings the now event-obligatory food-truck roundup from 20 vendors — making a final-day visit most worthwhile.
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Tickets for the tasting garden are $30 on festival weekend. That includes a commemorative tasting glass and 10 tasting tokens. Most of the wines run one or two tokens per taste, and you can buy more tokens. If you like what you taste, the festival has a stocked bottle shop, actually a tent. That serves the wine businesses for sure, but some wines you taste at festivals can be needles in a retail haystack.
Remember to check yourself. Little tastes add up. “One alcoholic drink” is defined as 6 ounces of wine. Because Washington wines run hot, use a 5-ounce gauge when keeping a consumption tally or bring along a designated driver for worry-free imbibing — preferably a single, 25- to 40-year-old. This crowd thanks you in advance.
Maggie Savarino is a Seattle-based freelance writer.