What an incredible story this festival has to tell. In the very beginning, Al Lucero, past owner of Maria’s Restaurant, had been looking for an idea to keep Santa Fe’s hotels busy after Labor Day—when historically the market just dried up. Full hotels mean full restaurants, Al figured. So the idea of a wine and chili festival was born – a clever name echoing the chili harvests that define New Mexico and a salute to the state’s fine wineries.
The first Festival was held in 1990 at the Sanbusco mall. I remember that event very well, as David Oberstein and I decided it would be a perfect location for the festival and offered it as a contribution to this great effort. There were about 300 attendees. Unbelievably, the admission price was all of $10. For that, attendees received a booklet with eight coupons good for food and four coupons for glasses of wine. Sixteen restaurants participated in the first festival, as did a dozen or more wineries.
Given that $10 admission price, it was expected that the event would end up in the red that first year. Still, among its participants and hosts, there was the realization of how much potential this wine and chile deal offered. To everyone.
Today, 90 wineries participate, along with 75 restaurants. Activities are planned for five glorious fall days now, many are designed to help the greater community. The Live Auction for the Santa Fe Wine and Chili Festival (SFWCF) benefits and helps underwrite culinary classes, including restaurant service and wine and cooking classes. The auction helps sponsor the Santa Fe Restaurant Week, a mid-February promotion to help the restaurant businesses in Santa Fe during off-season. SFWC has grown!
This year’s five-day fest includes a film festival, wine and food seminars, a wine auction, wine tastings, and the “Big Event” under the beautifully installed white tents at the Santa Fe Opera. There is even a “Champagne and Dirty Boots” event at the Four Seasons. From a mere 300 people in 1990, 2500 tickets will be sold this year at a price of $150 a person. With participants, the number swells to 3500—over 10 times the original number.
The SFWCF has enriched our lives here, for locals and visitors alike. It joins other groups like the International Folk Market, the Santa Fe Film Festival, and the Lensic Performing Arts Center, also relatively new “startups” that have reached national recognition.
Right now, as the leaves are getting ready to don their fall attire, our patio is the perfect place to enjoy both dinner, cocktails, and wine. Bienvenidos!