CLAYTON — The Great New York State Food and Wine Festival was so crowded Saturday afternoon that it was difficult to slip between the residents sipping local wines, sampling fudge, cheese and waffles, or trying a shot of locally produced absinthe. They had plenty of choice among the more than 90 vendors from across the state who set up in the Cerow Recreation Park Arena.
“We love it because it’s our home base,” said Andy Beimford of Saint Lawrence Spirits. “These are the people who take care of us.”
The event is sponsored by the Clayton Chamber of Commerce and has been running about 18 years, but it continues to grow. On Friday, the festival had 250 people enter in the first 25 minutes, and by the end of the day had 100 more people than last year, according to Tricia Bannister, executive director of the 1000 Islands-Clayton Chamber of Commerce.
“I like the fact that New York state products can all be showcased,” she said. “We’re hoping people will come back during the season.”
The vendors were largely from the north country, including some well known names. Lori Randazzo of Coyote Moon was behind the double booth, selling wine and pasta sauce even as she answered questions from the Times.
“It’s in my backyard,” she said. “This is one of the best events we do all year.”
Ms. Randazzo said that of the 50 events or so the vineyard does each year, this one did a particularly good job of highlighting local food and drink.
“It’s a well rounded festival,” she said. “People aren’t overwhelmed by crafters.”
Another local business, River Rat Cheese, was doing a brisk business.
“We almost sell out of everything we have,” said Dawn Scudera.
Ms. Scudera said River Rat Cheese Co. has participated for the past several years.
“It’s a good chance to get our brand out there,” she said. “And it pairs well with wine.”
The fair gave an opportunity for out-of-state people to get a taste of New York state wines and food products.
Sgt. Henry Tyson has been at Fort Drum about a year, and came at the invitation of his friend, Sgt. Dallas Cannon, who had attended two years ago.
“I haven’t really been able to venture out,” he said, and the festival provided an opportunity to do just that.
Sgt. Tyson’s favorite so far was the sweet wines on offer from the Finger Lakes area Rasta Ranch Vineyards, he said the next thing he wanted to try was the famous New York State pizza.
Rasta Ranch was not the only business from outside Jefferson County — some vendors drove from as far away as the Buffalo area, according to Ms. Bannister, and some of the visitors came even farther.
Pia Hogue, who lives locally, was the leader of a group of six, or maybe seven, friends — the group was not sure exactly how many of them there was — including two from Rhode Island and two from Detroit. Sporting pirate hats adorned in buttons and bric-a-brac collected by, and in honor of, her late father, Ms. Hogue’s crew was abiding by the motto -letsgetweird. Before being rushed away by her party of six — or seven — Ms. Hogue said she would be coming back next year.
Marlene Hujar has a cottage in Chaumont, and lives the rest of the year in Syracuse. She said this was her fifth year attending the festival.
“We get a bunch of people together,” she said. “Every year we come back, and we save the date.”