CNY Wine and Chocolate Festival

Overcrowding, sweltering heat mar Wine and Chocolate Festival experience

Many attendees of the Central New York Wine and Chocolate Festival found the event overwhelming and unorganized.

For Colleen Feeney, Rachel Gullotta and Erin Marsden, all from Syracuse, the large amount of distilleries and wineries at the 10th annual AmeriCU Credit Union Wine and Chocolate Festival was overwhelming.

“It’s a little difficult to find which one to go to,” Gullotta said. 

The Exhibit Center of the New York State Fairgrounds was the site of the festival Saturday evening.

Touted online as taking place at a new location with bigger space, the venue hosted 105 vendors, including one beer distributor, TJ Sheehan, and 26 wineries/distilleries, such as Americana Winery and Three Brothers Winery.

Photo: Kelly Agee
An attendee samples from a chocolate fountain.

The products of the remaining 78 vendors included cheeses, flavored crackers, soaps, cookies and painted wine glasses. Ticket prices differed depending on a buyer’s decision to either sample the wines at $25, or be a designated driver at $15. Upon arriving, attendees received a free wine glass to use for their wine samplings.

In the center of the building, the Ashley Lynn Winery’s booth promoted the winery’s famous wine slushies as well as refillable jars and cups.

Waiting in line at the booth, Pulaski resident Christine Linguanti, 26, looked forward to getting a wine slushy. “It’s a novelty. It’s something everybody raves about,” he said. 

But as more attendees began arriving, long lines became longer and created confusing chaos. Before the event had reached the halfway point of its 6-hour duration, attendees became red in the face from overheating due to their winter attire, the massive crowds and the building’s heating system.This led some attendees to leave the festival.

Of her first 35 minutes at the event, Honesty Rohrer, 28, attending with her parents and fiancé, estimated that she had spent 20 minutes waiting in line at the Thousand Islands Winery booth. 

“We came to the back, thinking that less people would be back here,” said Rohrer. The group’s new strategy became checking out the booths with the least amount of people waiting in line.

Both Patty Bendura, 47, and Abby Priolo, 32, also found the overcrowding and long lines to be ridiculous. After enduring one of the multiple long lines on all three sides of the Ashley Lynn Winery booth, they found the line for the Coyote Moon Vineyards’ booth to be worse. “I won’t do this again,” Bendura said.

Standing near the exit, 22-year-olds Caitlyn Younes and Dannielle Cooper arrived before the event’s start to get tickets due to the complete sellout of online tickets. Of the seven booths that they stopped at, they did not go to three due to the lines. Although they enjoyed the Adirondack Distilling Company’s whiskey and bourbon as well as the Ashley Lynn Winery’s wine slushies, they criticized the lines’ lack of organization. 

“It would be nice if there was someone dictating, ‘These are the lines’,” Cooper said. Younes agreed, saying, “A lot of the lines weren’t moving at all.” 

Both women left the building shortly afterwards, deciding to get food and go to a liquor store.

Many people took to Facebook to complain about the event; these complaints were also documented on

Festival organizers responded to the negative feedback on the event's Facebook page, "CNY Wine & Chocolate Festival." The post included instructions on how to request a refund. 

"We're already brainstorming how to improve next year — includng capping the event at a much smaller number, maybe multiple sessions and we may attempt to get volunteers to help at the wineries so the lines move quicker," the post said. "If you have constructive crisiscicm we welcome ideas."

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