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Wine South is a major loss for Gwinnett

Wine South is typically one of the highlights of my entire year, so even though the event moved from Gwinnett to Atlanta this year, I didn't even consider not going.

Founded by Lawrenceville resident and Wine Report editor Dan Thompson, the annual wine extravaganza is known as the cream of the crop of wine events in the South. For the past five years, it had been held in the Gwinnett Center in Duluth. This year, for various reasons, it moved downtown to the Georgia World Congress Center.

Some may wonder how a pedigreed festival like Wine South ended up way out in Gwinnett in the first place. But I find it hard to believe the county didn't try harder to keep the festival - which boasts as many as 700 wines, food from 40 local restaurants and visitors from 25 different states - in Duluth.

Every year, I leave Wine South with a hankering to buy some of the new wines I tried and to make reservations at some of the restaurants that I sampled food from. I couldn't stop raving about the treats I tried last weekend, including an outstanding rioja from Spain and made-on-the-spot riesling sorbet.

In years past, I'd head straight to a wine retailer in Gwinnett and shell out big bucks for a few bottles, and I'm sure many of the other festival-goers did, too.

There are plenty of festivals featuring wine and food held in Atlanta. I've been to many of them. But in Gwinnett, there was nothing else like Wine South. It's a much bigger loss for our county than it is a gain for Atlanta, in my opinion.

Public transportation - actually, lack thereof - was supposedly a big factor in the festival's move from Gwinnett to Atlanta. Our bus system is too spotty to rely on for getting to and from Wine South.

MARTA certainly came in handy this year for my friends and I, who carpooled to Lenox mall, where we boarded a train headed for the World Congress Center. We chose the Lenox station because the mall is an excellent place to sober up a bit after all that wine.

But I wonder how many other wine connoisseurs hopped on MARTA to get downtown? The Wine South crowd and the MARTA-riding crowd, in my experience, don't seem to overlap much. We did see a few other festival-goers toting the telltale red Wine South bags, but truthfully, our trains were mostly filled with Georgia Tech and Clemson revelers.

If Gwinnett did have a more reliable public transportation system, could the festival could have survived here? Somehow, I doubt it.

Maybe county leaders didn't like the idea of a festival centered on alcohol. Maybe Duluth, 12 miles outside the perimeter, really is too far for in-town wine-lovers to drive.

In the end, Gwinnett's movers and shakers didn't rally behind Wine South and fight to keep the tourist-magnet in the county. I think that's a shame.

E-mail Shelley Mann at shelley.mann@gwinnettdailypost.com.