Chattanooga’s Wine Tasters

How do you get them away from their computers and TVs to celebrate their city? Let them taste wine.

In Chattanooga, Tennessee, what has become the annual Wine Over Water (WOW) festival gathers locals and visitors alike on balmy autumn Saturdays (this year it was September 24) to celebrate grapes harvested, fermented, and aged all over the world. As the throngs stop by the many tents that offer a broad selection of wines, serious conversations can be heard on the merits of a 2002 Pinot Noir and a 2004 Riesling, products from well known and just discovered cellars. Local bands supply spirited syncopations as thousands gather on historic Walnut Street Bridge which spans the Tennessee River and overlooks Randall Stout’s recent addition to the Hunter Museum in one direction and the Passage, a memorial to the Cherokee Indians who passed through here during their final migrations, in the opposite direction.

Entry fees and auction proceeds go to benefit Cornerstones, the city’s unique, not-for-profit historic preservation organization that has been and continues to be the major force in bringing back Chattanooga’s historic heritage. For some ten years, starting with the rehabilitation of the Central Block Building in the heart of downtown, which today is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, Cornerstones has been promoting the benefits of recycling old buildings and other sustainable urban planning practices.

I am part of a group of interior designers and architects from as far away as New York and Florida, learning about Chattanooga’s revival, at the invitation of the Shaw Contract Group, one of the sponsors of WOW. We hear, from local experts, how committed business people, citizens, and politicians can bring back a once dying city, creating excitement and sustaining livelihoods; witness the new generation of urban-enthusiasts moving to Chattanooga from sleepy southern cities and towns nearby.

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The night before the bridge event, we attend the first wine tasting and auction at the Sheraton Read House Hotel. On our walk back to our B&B, the lovingly restored and decorated 1909 Stone Fort Inn we encounter a rally of motorcycle enthusiasts, a decidedly beer drinking crowd. Dinner at the Inn is accompanied by carefully chosen wines for every course. As we turn in for the night, to sleep in our luxurious four-poster beds, we are happy that Chattanooga is back and I, for one, make plans to return there some day.

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