Santa Clara’s Art & Wine Festival returned after its two-year COVID hiatus, and for the 20,000 people who came out on Sept. 17 & 18, it was one big Welcome Back party. Even on and off showers on Sunday couldn’t dampen spirits.
“It brings us [City staff] joy to have everyone come out to the park and enjoy the day,” said Parks & Rec Manager Kim Castro.
There was plenty of pleasing entertainment, plenty of tasty treats — including a fruit, olive and cheese offering from Sister Cities that complemented the wine-tasting — and, of course, extensive beer and wine offerings from both national and local brewers and vintners.
But the biggest draw was the wide array of interesting vendors. Only handmade crafts and artwork are permitted and the City aims for originality and diversity in the offerings.
Tony Zhao was there with his architectural, 3-D pop-up cards, all of which are made by his family in San Mateo. Zhou explained that he learned this art from his father, who made stencils for Chinese New Year decorations, and opened his family business, Holiday Pop Cards in 2015. Business was good, Zhao reported, and he plans to come back next year.
Over at Linda’s Obsession, Linda Fussell agreed that business was good this year.
“A lot of people are starved to get back to some normalcy,” said Fussell.
Fussell’s trademark items are jewel-like bead spiders and hermit crabs.
“This is what happens when a crocheter goes bad,” she laughed, “so now I do wire and beads.”
At Wildflower Apothecary, Santa Clara resident Denise Stovall offered her decorative mini-gardens and dried flower arrangements in pumpkins and gourds. The plants grow in moss that’s glued to the pumpkin, which will last for months. When the pumpkin gets soft, the plants can be planted in a pot.
Shopping wasn’t the only fun available. Live music brought plenty of people out to dance, like Santa Clara residents Erica Rosero and husband Charlie Davis who tripped the light fantastic at the pavilion.
“Every year we come to the Art & Wine Festival,” said Rosero. “It makes me happy to be back again after COVID.”
40 Years of Sunshine (Mostly) and Good Times
This year’s Santa Clara Art & Wine Festival was not only the first post-COVID festival, it was also the 40th anniversary of the event, which has its roots in the City’s now-gone Festival Days.
“It’s that time of year again,” wrote the Santa Clara Sun in the Sept. 23, 1981 edition. “Santa Clara Festival Days is in progress with three weeks of crafts and competitions to be capped by the 36th annual Parade of Champions on Oct. 4.”
Also featured in 1981 was a football game billed as “Santa Clara’s Super Bowl IV” between the Santa Clara County Sheriffs’ “Deputy Dawgs” and the “Police Porkers” of the Santa Clara Police Department.
In 1982, the arts fair grew from being an ancillary part of the Festival Days and simply a prelude to the parade.
“For the first time this year, the Festival Days activities will spill over to Santa Clara Central Park with a wine and art fair,” wrote the Santa Clara Sun in the Sept. 29, 1982 edition. “Wine from Kirigin Cellars, Gugliemo Family Winery, Novitiate Winery and Mirassou will be on sale along with commemorative Festival Days glasses.”
The Festival got a revised birthdate in 1983 when the event was billed by the Sun as the “3rd Annual Art, Wine Festival.” That year’s event included a book signing by author Peter Beagle (The Last Unicorn), performances by the Sexy Senior Uke band and a petting zoo featuring a camel.
By 1984, the Festival tradition was well established.
“Visitors at Santa Clara’s fourth annual Art & Wine Festival will enjoy music by jazz musicians and easy rock bands as they stroll around Central Park’s lake and pavilion areas to sample wines and view exhibits by more than 150 artists,” wrote the Santa Clara Sun in the Sept. 26, 1984 edition.
Not every festival has been a success, however.
“Rain Dampens Wine and Art Festival Turnout,” wrote the Santa Clara Valley Weekly in September 1989, when estimates were that turnout was down 50% — legendary Santa Claran Cleo Stuckrath gave an accounting of the surplus food in her “Cleo’s Corner” column. (Given Cleo’s prodigious community activities, no doubt she made sure it all found a useful home.)
Fortunately, there have been few rainouts for the perennially popular event. Although Sunday’s showers slowed attendance this year, many vendors reported selling more in one day than they typically sell at two-day festivals, according to Parks & Rec manager Castro.
Hard Working Team Makes it Possible
Much of the Parks & Rec department is involved in making the festival the success that it is.
“They’ve worked for 10 months on the logistics and operations, and 80 staff members worked the event itself,” said Castro.
But the Parks & Rec department’s hardworking team isn’t sitting on their laurels. In a few weeks, they’re going to get to work on the 2023 Festival.