This year, the castle wasn’t available because of a Hearst family event. So organizers have created what they believe is a memorable, interactive experience at Vina Robles Amphitheatre, where guests can enjoy performances from award-winning artists String Theory and Jennifer Spingola, a DJ violinist known as Spags, wine pairings from the 2015 Sunset International Wine Competition winners and celebrity chef tastings.
The Thursday night event Sept. 24 is about half sold out, said Chuck Davison, president and chief executive officer of Visit San Luis Obispo County, a tourism marketing group.
Local residents will receive a 15 percent discount through August to the “Strings at Sunset” concert, as well as the Main Event at Santa Margarita Ranch on Sept. 26-27.
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Ticket sales for the Main Event are well ahead of last year, Davison said. It will feature more than 200 wines, as well as 42 food tastings, beer and music gardens and demonstrations from celebrity chefs and Sunset magazine editors.
The number of Main Event food stations is more than double what it was the past two years — and the tastings will be spread out — to address visitors’ criticism that there wasn’t enough food and it was all in one area. Last year, for example, there were 18 food stations.
Fast Forward Event Productions of San Diego, an event marketing firm whose portfolio includes ownership and production of 10 events a year such as the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival, was hired earlier this year to further develop Savor and ensure its profitability long term.
Savor has not broken even in its first five years, but the event has gained recognition both regionally and nationally.
Michelle Metter, one of two partners at Fast Forward Event, believes that no other similar event truly captures the essence of its location as Savor does with its adventure tours, Main Event, small winemaker dinners and other special events.
“Other epicurean events around the country do a great job, but with Savor it’s a true immersion. You get to experience, not just learn about, the landscape, people, culture and food,” Metter said.
Under terms of Fast Forward Event’s agreement with Visit San Luis Obispo County, the San Diego firm will gradually increase its ownership stake in Savor until it has complete ownership in 2018. This year the deal is 70-30, with Visit San Luis Obispo County owning 70 percent; in 2016 it will be 50-50, then in 2017 30-70 and in 2018, Fast Forward will own the event, Davison said. At that point, Visit San Luis Obispo County will license to the firm the Savor name and other assets in exchange for 10 percent of the profits, he added.
Besides turning over Savor’s management to a firm with strong events marketing expertise, the arrangement “takes all the risk out for us,” Davison said, so if there was a loss reported in 2018, it would not shoulder any of that.
Among Savor’s new events this year are an artisan village at the Main Event featuring artists from throughout the county, a variety of small winemaker dinners, and a Sept. 25 cocktail event featuring a competition among Central Coast mixologists, sponsored by the Paso Robles Inn and Re:Find, a local distiller. Such additions reflect changing consumer tastes, Davison said.
Metter’s top goals for this year’s event are to attract more culinary tourists from outside San Luis Obispo County and to ensure that local residents understand Savor’s special qualities — that they have an opportunity to interact with Sunset editors, among other things.
Although organizers have long hoped to attract at least 60 percent nonlocal visitors, Metter said that 40 percent is a more realistic target — and believes that’s doable over time. It takes time to build an event’s recognition, she said, noting that “Savor is well poised for success.”
In previous years about 35 percent to 38 percent of attendees were from outside the county.
Organizers are hoping to attract 8,000 to 10,000 guests over the four-day culinary event this year, on par with previous years, Metter said.
For more information on events and tickets, go to www.savorcentralcoast.com.