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Wednesday, Sept. 15, 2010

Homegrown in Cedarburg

Ozaukee’s 38th annual Wine & Harvest Festival

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This weekend Cedarburg is hosting its 38th annual Wine & Harvest Festival, a free two-day event that features an abundance of homegrown fruits and vegetables, artisan foods straight from the farm and traditional-style grape wines. The festival, held mostly within Cedarburg’s downtown district on Saturday, Sept. 18, and Sunday, Sept. 19, is a modern version of an ancient tradition.

Before the high-yielding seed varieties, synthetic fertilizers and pesticides, and efficient farm machinery of today’s industrialized agriculture, a farmer would spend more than half the year working outside in his fields: tilling the earth, planting seeds, managing the crops and, finally, reaping what he had sown. In this part of the country, when the air became crisp and cool and the autumnal equinox was near, farming families would gather the final harvest together. When they finished they were not only free from the necessity of working in the fields for the next several months, they also had ample food. That meant it was time to party.

The central features of the harvest festivals of ol’ are the same as those found at Cedarburg’s Wine & Harvest Festival today: eating, drinking, contests, music and all-around merriment. This season’s local harvest will be on display and for sale at the Farmer’s Market, where more than 20 vendors will bring their assorted fruits, veggies, herbs and perennials. Artisanal foods such as cheese, sausage, honey, preserves and syrup will be for sale at the Turner Street and Mill Street marketplaces. The aroma of burgers, brats, turkey legs and corn on the cob will lead visitors to the food booths that line Washington Avenue, where sweet treats such as kettle corn, apple pie squares, caramel apples and homemade ice cream can also be found.

For festivalgoers who want to opt for food prepared in a brick-and-mortar kitchen rather than a booth, the picturesque city has more than 200 buildings of historic significance, many of which have been restored by locals for use as cafes and restaurants. A Cream City brick building, circa the 1860s, now has a second life as Fiddleheads Coffee Cafe; the Anvil Pub & Grille, located in a 19th-century blacksmith’s shop, offers outdoor seating overlooking Cedar Creek waterfall; The Hub, known for its bubble tea, is located just off the Ozaukee Interurban Trail; Vintage Café & City Deli, located in a cozy brick building on the main thoroughfare, offers homemade soup and fresh sandwiches; and the Settlers Inn, also in a renovated historic building, has a full-service restaurant, deli, bakery and tavern.

The wine in the Cedarburg festival hails from Cedar Creek Winery, located in the Cedar Creek Settlement, a former woolen mill built in 1864. The Wollersheim family, the winery’s owners, derive their wines from traditional grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Chardonnay, Johannisberg Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Syrah, as well as French-American hybrids like Marechal Foch, Seyval Blanc and Vidal Blanc. Beer, while not as popular at a wine festival, can also be purchased at various venues.

At this harvest festival, you won’t be told, “Don’t play with your food.” In fact, it’s encouraged. Grape spitting, grape stomping and apple bobbing draw a big group of contestants, but it’s the annual Great Pumpkin Regatta that’s getting the most hits on YouTube. Competitors are challenged to race across Cedar Creek’s Mill Pond in humongous hollowed-out pumpkins (many weighing more than 500 pounds) using only a paddle. The navigators who cross the finish line first, second and third will be awarded $250, $150 and $100, respectively, to give to the charity of their choice.

While many Americans have come to rely on food produced by large-scale agribusinesses, there is a growing segment of the population committed to honoring the work done on local farms. The longevity and success of an event such as Cedarburg’s Wine & Harvest Festival is proof that the tradition of celebrating the local harvest is alive and well.

For more information, call 1-888-894-4001 or visit www.cedarburgfestivals.org.