HARRISONBURG — On Sunny Slope Farm’s third annual Oyster & Wine Festival is expanding into a three-day event this year with more oysters than ever before.
The festival will take place Aug. 2-4, showcasing five culinary oyster preparations by Virginia oyster purveyors paired with wines from five coastal wineries.
“Last year we only had one oyster purveyor,” said Harry Jarrett, the owner of On Sunny Slope Farm. “There’s going to be a whole lot more oysters [this year].”
The Oyster & Wine Festival benefits the Virginia Oyster Trail, which highlights aquaculture businesses along the Chesapeake Bay. On Sunny Slope Farm is located at 1000 Erickson Ave. in Harrisonburg.
The festivities begin Aug. 2 with an oyster-shucking workshop led by Deborah Pratt, Virginia’s four-time National Oyster Shucking Champion, from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Participants will learn from a pro how to shuck oysters, as well as how oysters are grown and how to store and prepare them, leaving with a special shucking knife and glove to take home.
As the special guest of the festival, Pratt will be present each day to talk about oyster shucking and aquaculture.
A private “farm-to-fork” five-course dinner will follow the workshop from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
The main Oyster & Wine Festival will take place from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Aug. 3. The festival features three live performances from jazz group the Stephanie Nakasian Trio, jazz guitar player Chris Whiteman and indie folk artist Kipyn Martin.
Admission includes tastings from all five wineries and oyster providers, who will prepare the oysters differently.
“We are doing raw, roasted, fried, stewed and Oysters Rockefeller [half-shelled and baked],” Jarrett said.
Big Island Aquaculture will be offering both raw half shell oysters and roasted half shell oysters. Byrd’s Seafood Food Truck will have fried oyster tacos. Oyster stew will be provided by Cowarts and Bevan’s Oyster Co. Chessie Seafood and Aqua Farms will have Oysters Rockefeller.
“Each oyster preparation has chosen the winery that they want to be paired with that goes well with their type of oyster and that oyster preparation,” he said.
Williamsburg Winery, Saude Creek Vineyards, Good Luck Cellars, Mattaponi Winery and Ingleside Vineyards will be providing the wine tastings.
“We’re focusing on the coastal wineries,” Jarrett said. “I think what’s most exciting about this is that we’re bringing in Mattaponi Winery, the only Native American owned and run winery in Virginia.”
The indigenous Native Americans who lived near the Chesapeake Bay cultivated oysters long before the European settlers arrived, Jarrett said.
Jarrett said the Oyster & Wine Festival is an opportunity to learn more about oyster farming and its history, as well as bring education and awareness to the ecological role oysters play in cleaning the Chesapeake Bay.
“I think we’re exposing people to wineries that people would have to travel hours to enjoy and oysters that people would have to drive hours to enjoy,” he said.
While the Shenandoah Valley is located several hours from the coast and is known for other types of agriculture, like poultry farming, the festival draws a connection between the Valley and the Chesapeake Bay.
“I think the tasting and the experience builds awareness of how the Valley is tied to the coast,” Jarrett said. “We are in the Chesapeake Bay watershed. How we farm affects where the oysters are grown.”
The Oyster & Wine Festival wraps up Aug. 4 with a “Valley Meets Bay” Sunday brunch from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. The brunch includes the food, two drinks, a silent auction and a chance to win the Virginia Oyster Trail Getaway. The weekend vacation package features a two-night stay at Ma Margaret’s House Bed and Breakfast in the Northern Neck, dinner for two at Horn Harbor Restaurant, a private guided tour of an oyster nursery, tickets to the Reedville Fishermen’s Museum and a day trip cruise to the Eastern Shore’s Tangier Island.
Admission to each day of the festival is sold separately. The oyster-shucking workshop costs $75 and the Oyster & Wine Festival is $35, which includes tastings of all the wines offered at each winery and all five oyster preparations. The Sunday brunch is $65 per person. Only 35 tickets for the workshop remain, while the brunch is limited to 100 people. Around 2,000 to 3,000 tickets are usually sold for the main festival.
Tickets will be available at the gate, but Jarrett encourages people to buy tickets in advance at www.onsunnyslopefarm.com/oyster-wine-festival.