Organizers of the inaugural Sandyvale Wine Festival this year agreed to host its sequel.
The Sandyvale Wine Festival is to be held Friday and Saturday.
Proceeds from the festival will once again benefit Sandyvale Memorial Gardens, which includes a park, dog park and gardens.
Diana Kabo, who has been involved with the Sandyvale Memorial Gardens since 1999 and is also a member of the festival committee, said that the festival came to fruition last year as a way to help maintain the space.
“Everything that’s done at Sandyvale is done by volunteers. We have no paid staff and the maintenance of the grounds is done purely by volunteers,” Kabo said.
“It costs about $10,000 to $12,000 a year to keep the area maintained. It was becoming a real struggle for us, so our board met and we decided that we needed to have one big fundraiser a year to offset the costs. We came up with the idea of a wine festival. We weren’t sure how it would go over, but last year was a huge success so we decided to do it again.”
This year, events kick off early in two ways: first, last year’s festival was held in October. Though they had gorgeous weather that weekend, committee members didn’t want to count on that again this year. Second, wine lovers can gather Friday evening in the Holiday Inn’s Crown Ballroom in downtown Johnstown, where guests can expect a five-course dinner featuring specialty wine pairings. The PLCB Chairman’s Selection wine buyer, Steve Pollack, will be the featured guest.
Event Chairman Ernie Peterson said that there seems to be an influx of wine enthusiasts living in and around the area.
“I think there’s a real interest in knowing about wine in general,” Peterson said. “Every bottle of wine tells its own story. We gave out almost 1,400 glasses last year. That shows that there’s really an interest and by having it at Sandyvale, people get to see what a cool place it is. That’s exciting.”
Peterson mentioned that Friday’s dinner featuring Pollack should be a special event for ticketholders.
“They’ll get to hear from a person who runs the second-largest wine buying operation in the world,” he said. “He’s done a very careful job with pairing the wines with the food and he’s bringing some wine makers with him; I think it’s going to be a nice, educational experience.”
For the past five years, Pollack has been the wine buyer for Fine Wine and Good Spirits’ Chairman’s Selection program; Chairman’s Selection wines are available in more than 70 Fine Wine and Good Spirits Premium Collection stores across Pennsylvania. He hand-selects wines from around the world for the program.
Seating for Friday’s dinner is limited, and there is a fee to attend.
Saturday’s festival hours are 3 to 7 p.m. Ticketholders can spend the day sampling wine from 12 Pennsylvania wineries, including Bee Kind Winery, Laurel Mountain Winery, B&L Wine Cellars and Fractured Grape Wine Cellars. Vendors such as Peaced Together Jewelry, Wilkins Eco-Logic Soaps and Smicksburg Community Cheese will have booths set up on the grounds. Live entertainment-wise, Pittsburgh recording artist Kenny Blake will entertain audiences with his “soul hybrid” sound: a combination of traditional jazz with modern rhythm and blues.
V.I.P.s on Saturday will have access to a ribbon cutting for the dedication of the new patio (donated by local businesses Danchanko and Fi-Hoff Concrete Products) that surrounds the greenhouse. The patio is to be used for the educational greenhouse series and historic speaker series, both of which are open to the public and take place between the spring and fall.
Saturday’s admission price includes a souvenir wine glass and access to all music, vendors and wineries. For an additional charge, attendees also have the option to go on a horse and carriage ride or a tethered hot air balloon ride.
Only those 21 and older will be granted admission.
Committee members are hopeful that this year’s event will be even more successful than last year’s. In addition to raising funds for Sandyvale Memorial Gardens, the event also introduces people to local wineries.
“I think it’s very important to support local vendors, particularly the wine vendors at this event, because they have put forth an effort to establish a business in this community,” Kabo said. “I really think that to support them is to support improving the economic status of the community.”
Peterson said that the community’s support means a lot to festival committee members. Last year, they surpassed their fundraising goal, and this year they hope to raise $20,000.
“Sandyvale is a beautiful place to be,” Peterson said. “Everybody gets to see a place that is one of the city’s gems. I think they’ll have a great time seeing the different wine vendors. We have excellent food vendors, plus artisans and great jazz music.”
Kabo added that the event’s uniqueness is part of what makes it a hit. “I think it’s such a unique event that we’ve never had in Johnstown before. That was one of the comments we had last year — ‘I can’t believe this is Johnstown,’” Kabo said. “The other thing that was appealing to people was the outdoor venue. It’s a little different to have a wine tasting in a building, and when it’s outside in a beautiful area, it seems more appealing.”
Much like the gardens themselves, the entire festival will be run by volunteers. “We really thank our volunteers who help every year,” Kabo said. Sandyvale Memorial Gardens, not long ago known simply as an abandoned cemetery, was transformed by volunteers like Kabo into a green space that’s open year-round to the public. “Many people don’t realize how much history there is at the gardens. That was the first cemetery in Johnstown,” Kabo said. “The site was compromised by three major floods: 1889, 1936 and 1977 and after each event, there was more destruction. Each time, tomb stones and even some bodies were washed away. There are not as many people buried there now as there were initially, but the founding fathers of Johnstown are buried there. Five abolitionists from the Civil War are buried there. The National Park Service has even identified that and they’ve placed an exhibit along the trail honoring those five individuals.
“The other part, which is very important, is that Sandyvale should be identified as a veteran’s memorial park because we have a huge number of veterans buried there from major conflicts — from the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, Korean War.”
Sandyvale Memorial Gardens is also serving as a hub for fresh produce. “We also discovered there’s a need in Johnstown for good food, so we’ve become the hub of the community garden initiative in Johnstown,” Kabo said. “We are providing low-income families, children, adults and seniors with fresh produce that they wouldn’t normally have. At the end of July, we provided (more than) 1,000 heads of lettuce to The Greater Prospect Co-Op and local soup kitchens. Sandyvale, in many ways, is serving the community. We’ve improved the site to not only look aesthetically pleasing and to be respectfully ornamental for the original use of the site, but we’re also providing the community with needed opportunities for many things.”
Sandyvale Memorial Gardens volunteers are also striving to teach both local and out-of-state students the history of the gardens and surrounding areas.
“In the summertime we have an educational history session called ‘Hometown Roots: Stories of the Laurel Highlands,’ and it tells the stories about this area and how it impacted American history,” Kabo said. “Education is a big part of Sandyvale. We’re trying to continue that.”
Sandyvale Memorial Gardens is located at 80 Hickory Street and Holiday Inn’s Crown Ballroom is located at 250 Market Street. Tickets for Saturday’s event will be priced at a discounted rate until Thursday at midnight.
“There’s just so much history at Sandyvale,” Kabo said. “That’s the most important thing that I always point out to people. We can’t lose that because it’s the foundation of how Johnstown came about. I love Sandyvale and I want to see everything that’s done there succeed. (The festival) is going to be a wonderful event. We’ve improved a couple of things from last year and this year we’re offering a really nice variety of vendors. I think it’s going to be an enjoyable event for everybody.”