Ever since I turned 21 I have enjoyed the truly epic experience that is Minnesota Monthly's Food & Wine Experience.
I've devoted kitchen cupboards to it (hey, the Stella Artois booth gives away free barware with their samples).
I've loyally made my annual pilgrimage to Minneapolis, and even managed to be the first in line every year.
I've likened the mythically-proportioned Wisconsin cheese booth to the legend of Brigadoon.
Last year, I wrote an Epiphany-inspired countdown to it.
So if I love it so much, if I'm such a loyalist, why am I not going this year?
First, a bit of history.
When I first started attending the Food & Wine Show, tickets were $50 and doors were open from 10:00 AM - 5:00 PM (with a 30 minute pouring break). That's 7 and a half hours of all you can eat and drink. Really made every other food and wine tasting event pale in comparison.
Furthermore, the show would always have one keynote sponsor, usually Byerly's (Minneapolis Sendiks), who would set the theme and host a gargantuan booth of gourmet food related to that theme.
A few years later, Byerlys stopped sponsoring the event (at least, to the level it did before), and ticket prices jumped from $50 to $65.
Fair enough. Events get more expensive to plan over the course of 6 years, and I'm willing to pay a bit more for the, still, incredible value.
Each year my friends and I would make our pilgrimage from Green Bay, Milwaukee, and Chicago to meet at the Minneapolis Hilton for a weekend of shopping, eating, and drinking. We'd bravely set out at 9 AM to ensure our first place in line, stopping at Dunn Bros. for coffee in the skywalk and passing innumerable teenage girls in cheerleading uniforms (the Food & Wine Show is always, always held on the same weekend as some crazy state cheerleading competition).
We'd anxiously wait in line for the doors to open, keeping one ear open for that one, butterfingered individual who has the misfortune of breaking his/her wine glass before the show even starts (cue 100 people groaning "Aw, man!" in unison).
During our 7 and half hours of hedonism, we courageously stuff ourselves silly, and only occasionally retreat back through the skyways from whence we came to deliver yet another round of trade show trash to our hotel room.
Every single year we make plans for that evening, but when 5 PM rolls around, it's all we can do to awake from our food coma and turn on the hotel room TV.
The next morning we head back home, possibly stopping for breakfast and/or a few hours of shopping at the Mall of America.
Now, a bit of present.
The Twin Cities Food & Wine Experience was a tradition I treasured. A short vacation to look forward to during the bleakest stretch of winter.
However, this year I won't be making my annual pilgrimage.
It's not because the venue moved from the Minneapolis Convention Center to Target Field. Though the MCC was convenient, Target Field is beautiful and, I'm sure, connected to the downtown skyway system.
It's because the event's value has taken a disturbing nosedive.
My friends and I used to spend 6 hours (12 hours roundtrip) driving across WI, hundreds of dollars for a 2-night hotel stay, $65 ticket price, and the cost of incidentals and still believed we were getting a great deal out of it.
This year, show organizers increased the ticket price to $75 and also decreased show time from 7.5 hours to 4 hours. That's a 15% increase in price combined with a 53% decrease in hours of operation.
Not exactly a convincing reason to travel 6 hours (12 hours roundtrip) and spend 2 nights in a hotel anymore.
Why it hurts me to say this...
The Food & Wine Show introduced me to Bell's Brewery, Peace Coffee, Crispin Cider, and many, many others, including family-owned wineries throughout the Midwest of whom I normally wouldn't have heard.
The Food & Wine Show also gave me some of my fondest memories. Like the time we lost one of our friends 30 minutes into the event, thought he had wandered down to the Guns & Ammo Show, only to find him 4 hours later back at the apartment (we all lived in Minneapolis at the time).
Or the year we went to Hell's Kitchen for breakfast the next morning, and had a smorgasboard of the most delicious, unique food served to us by waiters clad in pajamas.
The "experience" of the Food & Wine Experience was more than just the event itself, and, this year, I'm sorry to miss it. Lately I've been bombarded with solicitations for tickets, and, frankly, am shocked they haven't sold out yet as they always do. But perhaps I'm not so shocked after all, and can only hope they realize their mistake this year in alienating their out-of-state attendees.
Adieu, old friend. Perhaps we will meet again in the future.