Are you an occasional day drinker with discerning taste? Are you curious about natural wines? And do you like bucolic farm settings? Make your way to the Solstice natural wine festival if so!
I tasted my first natural wine — a pét-nat — when my husband brought home a bottle of funky, sparkling goodness from Odd Provisions in D.C. Craft beer was my go-to beverage for many years, but something about crossing the threshold into my thirties has changed the way my body metabolizes booze, and I had to broaden my horizons.
Wine always seemed a little too sophisticated for my backwoods origins. It’s more expensive, you’re supposed to wait years to drink it, and trying to suss out notes of tobacco or potpourri or pool noodle is just way over my head. But then I met natural wines. And everything changed.
This category of wine is — both literally and figuratively — more down to earth. Typically, they have little to no sulfites and are made with “minimal intervention.” I’m not a real expert, so I won’t bore you with probably incorrect details because all you need to know is that natural wine is weird and delicious. Instead, I’ll get into what we’re all here for: the Solstice wine festival.
Putting the Mid-Atlantic natural wine scene on the map
On June 22, 2019, dozens of wine producers and distributors gathered under a circus tent on Burnt Hill Farm to pour tastes for hordes of thirsty winos. I bought a VIP ticket that included transportation on a pretty nice shuttle bus from Domestique wine store, a smooth one-hour drive to the event from downtown D.C.
‘Twas the first-ever Solstice festival, and one of only a handful of major natural wine festivals in the U.S. It definitely had an insider feel, with most of the attendees working in the wine industry in some capacity. But there was zero sense of pretense — everyone was welcoming, friendly, and super casual. Cut off jean shorts casual.
The organizers could NOT have picked a better day for the festival. Blue skies, sunshine, a light breeze, and all the natural wine you can drink.
We clamored out of the shuttle and up a hill covered in young grapevines, except the lucky few who hopped in the back of a tractor-trailer to hitch a ride. Along the way, there were booths with live henna tattoos, art, and — at the top of the hill — a stage with live music.
A colorful sign pointed out all the different directions to natural wineries. Just behind it was the tent, filled with an arc of tables bedecked with bottles and spit buckets. (Wouldn’t The Spit Buckets make an amazing band name?)
Stroll just a little further and there were a handful of smaller tents serving up delish nibbles like tacos, BBQ, and tofu bites. My VIP pass included three snack tickets, which translated to roughly a taco per ticket. I cashed in and ate after just the first couple of wine tastings because any libation-focused festival is a marathon, not a sprint, after all.
The variety of wines ran the gamut, from Georgian amber wines aged in clay pots underground to so-called “pizza wine” with a slice of pepperoni on the bottle. Every sip was unique, which is part of what makes natural wine fun.
All in all, it was basically a perfect day. 10/10. Highly recommend. I’ll be going back every year I can swing it. Here’s an overview of the highs and lows, or roses and thorns, if you will.
Spoiler alert: I had a really hard time coming up with thorns.
Roses….or should I say rosés?
- 100+ scrumptious varieties of natural wine from around the country and the world
- Good vibes. Fun, relaxed people.
- Abso-tootin-lutely gorgeous setting. Rolling hills, farm stuff, all of it.
- Really tasty food.
- Lots of free ice water available
- Legit swag bag with a nice wine glass and a water bottle that I’ll actually use
- Easy transportation from D.C. with on-time departures and arrivals
Really just one. I didn’t get to try all the wines I wanted to. Why? Because wine is slightly harder to do in a festival format than, say, beer, where people fill their glass and go. Instead, we all want to hang around the table, talk to the winemaker, and savor every taste of the bottles on offer.
It’s part of what made the experience super awesome, but it also made it hard to get to the front of the line at each table without a wait. They were all crowded with excited wine lovers, who were lingering and drinking slowly, as one does (and as I certainly did). On the bright side, it slowed down the drinking process a bit and kept people from overdoing it.
At the end of the day
The Solstice natural wine festival is a fun, delicious experience for anyone lucky enough to get a ticket. I’m pretty sure it’s going to get bigger next year, and harder to get a pass before they sell out. So, if you think you’ll be in or around Maryland during the summer solstice, plan ahead. And remember to hydrate!
Images all courtesy of the Burnt Hill Project.
Looking for more libations, perhaps on the other side of the world? Explore the best cocktail bars in Singapore.