Festival still breaking records

By Corowa Free Press

A record-breaking crowd filled Rutherglen wineries over the Queen’s Birthday Long Weekend for the famous Rutherglen Winery Walkabout, with just over 16,500 people attending the iconic festival.

This year saw Winery Walkabout include 19 participating wineries, more than 15 live music acts, hundreds of wines on tasting and an impressive array of food and entertainment.

 With an estimated spend of over $4 million in the local region the positive effects of Winery Walkabout are felt by businesses both great and small in the community, as Victoria’s longest running wine festival continues to ratchet up its popularity and reach.

With visitors attending from as far away as Switzerland and Belgium, the Walkabout event attracted more than 50% repeat visitation and provides an enormous boost to the region’s tourism. In 2019, the festival saw 44% of attendees from the local region (within 100km of Rutherglen) and just over 35% of attendees come from Melbourne. 

“The effect this event has on tourism, regional awareness, ongoing brand engagement and of course, spend in our Rutherglen businesses, is truly remarkable,” says Natalie Ajay, Executive Officer of the Winemakers of Rutherglen. 

“Hundreds of hours of preparation and planning goes into this one weekend, and the return on investment is spectacular not just for our wineries, but for small businesses, the main street shops, and community and charity groups.” 

The annual politician grape stomp proved to be a major drawcard for the Sunday festival goers with Indigo Shire Mayor Bernard Gaffney and his wife Karen taking out top prize.

Independent MP Helen Haines, who was formally named as member for Indi this week, and Northern Victoria MP Jaclyn Symes came in at a close second and third place at the stomp.

A renewed focus on safety and sustainability ensured the festival remained largely incident free, with a very visible police presence over the weekend, supported by a fleet of first aid crews, RSA officers, event angels, TAC event staff, bus managers and winery security working together to ensure the many thousands of festival goers had a fun and safe weekend. 

“With such a large and dynamic event like Walkabout, it’s our number one priority to provide a safe and fun atmosphere for our visitors,” Natalie said.

“We work closely with the local police from the North East region, St Johns first aid, council, our suppliers and our wineries to make sure we’ve ticked all the boxes in supporting this festival and our patrons.” 

The logistics required to run Winery Walkabout is extensive, with approximately 25 event staff, over 50 regional and shuttle buses, more 400 private buses and in excess of 150 winery employees across the region working together to make the event possible. 

“I’d like to say a huge thank you to our event sponsor, TAC, for their ongoing support of Winery Walkabout. I’d also like to say thanks to Dysons Bus Lines who provide our official bus services, the police who came and supported this event from all over Victoria, St Johns First Aid, and the township of Rutherglen for continuing to make Walkabout a memorable and fun event for thousands of people every year,” Natalie said.

 “Finally, a big congratulations to Nolan Media and Events, who work tirelessly behind the scenes to turn this fantastic event into the must attend festival on the regional calendar.”