A variety of intimate epicurean experiences—led by world renowned sommeliers, local chefs and culinary leaders—will highlight the inaugural VIP Preview Night, a kick-off to the 16th Annual Grand Rapids International Wine, Beer & Food Festival. Just 500 $150 tickets are available for this exclusive celebration, which takes place from 6-9pm on Thursday, November 16 at DeVos Place in downtown Grand Rapids.

“The festival will have a handful of notable sommeliers and wine experts this year who will share their vinology knowledge in a fun and engaging way,” notes Dawn Baker, Showspan Festival Manager. “These individuals will help us create an intimate, curated culinary experience like nothing we’ve done before, with some offerings and sessions only available on Thursday.”

Featured beverage experts for the VIP Preview Night include:

  • Ray Isle: Longtime executive wine editor for Food & Wine, as well as the wine and spirits editor for Travel + Leisure. Author of the soon to be released The World in a Wine Glass (books expected to be available for purchase and autographing at the VIP Preview, in the Wine Chips exhibit area). Co-presenting “Must Haves! Red Wines from Around the World” sessions on Thursday at 7pm and 8pm in The Vineyard (Steelcase Ballroom).
  • Jonathan Pullis: Board of Master Sommeliers at Wine Chips, Wine Director at Madame Ushi in Aspen, CEO of Chef’s Club—a collaboration with Food & Wine magazine. Co-presenting the “Must Haves! Red Wines from Around the World” session on Thursday at 7pm in The Vineyard (Steelcase Ballroom).
  • Vincent Morrow: Master Sommelier, Chairperson of the Diversity Committee of the Court of Master Sommeliers and Board of Master Sommeliers at Wine Chips. In 2022, he was named the Michelin Guide California’s Sommelier of the Year, VinePair’s Next Wave Sommelier of the Year, and the Iconoclast Dinner Experience Wine Honoree. Co-presenting “Red Wines from Around the World” with a focus on African American wine makers on Thursday at 8pm in The Vineyard (Steelcase Ballroom).

  • Lazar Favors: Serial Entrepreneur and Chief Executive Officer of Black Spirits Legacy / Michigan Black Spirits. Presenting two spirit focused sessions featuring Risky Whiskey, Tom Bullock’s Gin, T Capri Tequilla, IsandJon Vodka, Fort Mose’ Bourbon, Black Momma Vodka and Nyak Cognac. These spirits will only be available for sampling on Thursday evening, in The Vineyard (Steelcase Ballroom) at 7pm and 8pm.


  • Vanessa Braxton: The First African American Woman Master Distiller and Master Blender, owner of the nationally-distributed Black Momma Vodka—a distillery, manufacturing facility and 15-acre farm grow house operating since 2012. Will be sampling with Lazar Favors in The Vineyard on Thursday only, at 7pm and 8pm.


  • John “Gonzo” Gonzales & Amy Sherman: Hosts of Behind the Mitten. Offering a guided tour through Beer City Station at 7pm, featuring brews and ciders that will only be served on Thursday, including special tastings from City Built Brewing, Guardian Brewing, Burzurk Brewing and more.
  • Jeremiah Zimmerman: Vice President Beer City Brewers Guild. Leading a curated tour of hard-to-find brews from Beer City Brewers including offerings from Founders, Perrin and Speciation, among others, at 8pm. These special beers will only be sampled during Thursday’s VIP.

Full presenter bios, including those on hand throughout the weekend, can be found online: Speakers, Experts & Headliners.

“We are excited to showcase a variety of globally inspired foods and beverages, as well as the diversity of the people behind those businesses,” Baker says. “There are a lot of new products in the regional marketplace inspired by passionate people from all corners of the world, and we’re honored to introduce them to West Michigan.”

For the $150 admission price, each person receives a full evening (including 200 tasting tickets) to enjoy:

  • A strolling dinner will feature creative “over the top” samples from nearly a dozen Small Plate restaurants and food producers:
    • Adobo Boy – Congregate over a Filipino Kamayan table, an interactive experience where bountiful food is spread across banana leaves (which serve as plates) and eaten sans utensils.
    • Pochis Columbian Restaurant and Café – featuring Chicharron con Yuka (Colombian fried park skin with Yuca plant) and Papas Chorreadas (a Colombian potato plate), with Colombian Milhoja (wafer) for dessert.
    • K-Pocha – serving Kimbap (or gimbap) – a Korean seaweed (gim) rice (bap) roll filled with deliciousness, offering an interesting combination of textures and flavors.
    • Irie Kitchen – known for their Jamaican cuisine is serving Jerk Lamb Chop with mashed potatoes.
    • Two Scotts Barbecue – offering up burnt ends with pimento mac & cheese, along with mini corn muffins.

Other featured Small Plate restaurants include Beacon Hill at Eastgate, Big O’ Smoke House, Farm Country Cheese, Jedi Chili, MDRD, Trinity Grand Rapids and Yo Chef);

  • Special wine, beer and distilled beverage tasting sessions led by local and national industry experts (see list above);
  • A Meijer Food Stage demonstration with Hannah Awada, founder and creator of Hummus Goodness and Karen Akouri – Drench Dressing;
  • A Meet the Maker presentation by Meghan Sedivy, Registered Dietician and spokesperson for Fresh Thyme Market. Meghan is a passionate leader dedicated to the food and nutrition landscape.
  • Sample select new releases, special vintage wines and exclusive beverages served only on Thursday – including some from the new featured tables in The Elite Collection;
  • Live music from Asamu Johnson and the Associates of Blues, 6:30-8:30pm in The Vineyard.
  • A VIP Festival sampling glass;

A VIP Preview Plus Ticket, at $225, includes everything above as well as an intimate one-hour multi-course Pairing dinner with Four Roses, One.Twenty.Three or Monsoon. Limited to 60 individuals (20 per pairing dinner). View the menus here: Pairing Menus. Tickets for the VIP Preview and add-on Pairings must be purchased online: VIP PREVIEW TICKETS.

Groups interested in adding an even more exclusive opportunity to the VIP Preview Night can host their own private pre-event reception (5-6pm) with guest presentations by Ray Isle or Jonathan Pulls. Contact Dawn Baker, Festival Manager (dawnb@showspan.com | 616-447-2860) for details and prices.

Beginning on Friday, November 17, General Admission tickets are $20 per person, per day with festival hours running from 4-9pm and Saturday, November 18, 2-9pm. Tasting tickets will be available for purchase online and at the event for 50 cents each, used for both food and beverages, for all three days.

Since its inception in 2008, this Festival – named by Forbes.com in 2019 as one of a dozen “Fall Wine Festivals In North America You Don’t Want to Miss” and 8 Best Fall Festivals in Michigan by BestThingsMI.com – has grown into the largest and most popular of its kind in the Midwest. Admission tickets, pairing reservations, tasting sessions and other details will be posted in early fall at GRWineFestival.com.