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Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival to be canceled, virtual plans announced

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Town Crier file photo
Attendees at last year's Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival.
 

The Los Altos Arts & Wine Festival will be canceled this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the event’s organizing committee.


In a statement issued July 1, the Los Altos Village Association said it was “heartbroken” to have to call off the event, the organization’s largest annual fundraiser.

“Our committee did not make this decision lightly,” said LAVA Executive Director Scott Hunter. “But current government-issued public health guidelines continue to prohibit large gatherings, and we don’t anticipate that will change in the near future. Our decision was made in the best interest of our sponsors, vendors, volunteers and patrons.”

Instead, the association plans to host a virtual event for attendees to interact with local artists, wineries and businesses.

The organizing committee voted unanimously June 30 to cancel the festival, according to Mark Rogge, president of LAVA. Rogge said the committee waited until the last minute to make a decision.

The festival, in its 41st year, had already been rescheduled to Sept. 26 and 27 from its original dates, July 11 and 12.

Rogge said the two factors in the decision were whether authorities would allow the event to take place and safety concerns for the more than 100 volunteers working the festival.

“It would not have been fair to ask people to participate,” he said. “A lot of volunteers were ready to go if it was deemed healthy. I don’t think anybody is in a position to deem it healthy.”

The Arts & Wine Festival is the fifth – and the biggest – LAVA event to be canceled in 2020, leaving the organization in “financial peril,” according to the statement. In 2018, the festival accounted for more than 80% of LAVA’s total gross income for fundraising events, bringing in more than $186,000, per the nonprofit organization’s latest available Form 990 filing.

Hunter asked the local community for donations, also citing a reduction in LAVA memberships.

“While LAVA continues to work tirelessly supporting Los Altos businesses and promoting our beautiful downtown, we need the community’s help now, more than ever,” Hunter said.

Missed exposure

Local wineries that were slated to participate in the festival were disappointed, but understood the decision to cancel.

“We’re getting used to this COVID environment, used to the inherent disappointment of it,” said Amy Madsen of Byington Vineyard and Winery in Los Gatos. “It wasn’t a surprise it was canceled.”

For Fernwood Cellars, a Gilroy-based winery that has been participating for nearly a decade, the festival accounts for three-quarters of its July revenue. Owner Matt Oetinger said the festival attracts an “educated and interested" crowd. He only makes 2,000 cases of wine a year, so he can’t afford to give out a lot of samples at festivals. But the patrons he interacts with at the festival are usually educated and interested, with some turning into future clientele.

A.T. Howe of San Francisco-based Bass Note Sangria said the festival “helps expose our brand to lots of folks in the South Bay Area, from Palo Alto to Menlo Park to San Jose.”

Howe, who has had a booth for the past three years, added that he’ll miss the numerous chances for either direct sales or other marketing opportunities that result from interaction at the festival.

Oetinger also praised LAVA for how it runs the event smoothly year after year.

“Makes it a no-brainer for us when the time rolls around every year to commit to the festival,” he said.

But as is the case with so many large-scale events, 2020 has wreaked havoc on any sort of plan.

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