Woodlands Wine & Food Week to Take Place June 4 to 10

Food and wine lovers, rejoice. Just a few short days away is a big-time celebration of gourmet cuisine and marvelous vino. The annual Woodlands festival, put on by the event-planning extraordinaires at Food and Vine Time Productions, and now in its eighth year, is slated to draw more than 10,000 attendees with its events for both novice and hardcore food and wine aficionados.

Now, Inner-Loopers, it may be a little daunting to even think about making the trek to the Land of the Woods, but be assured -- this festival, which has garnered plenty of national praise, is worth your time and gas mileage. Plus the week's festivities include an event at Minute Maid Park.

If you attend one event and one event only, make it the Wine Rendezvous Grand Tasting & Chef Showcase presented by Capital One Bank, to take place on Saturday, June 9, at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott. Attendees will be welcomed at the "Champagne Gazebo," starting the night off on a bubbly note. The affair will feature more than 500 wines for sampling, along with sweet and savory bites from some of Houston's most renowned restaurants.

Savory bites will be competing for the prestigious Waterford Crystal Chef of Chefs Award, with a purse of $5,000, while the sweet bites will be battling it out for the "Just Desserts" Award, with a $1,000 prize for the winning pastry chef. On hand for judging the Chef of Chefs award will be Pat Sharpe, Restaurant Editor at Texas Monthly, and Cleverley Stone of the Cleverley show, among others. Eddy VanDamme, host of TV show "Bake It", will be one of the three judges of the "Just Desserts" competition.

The HEB Wine Walk in Market Street-The Woodlands will provide the opportunity for sipping and strolling in a lush setting on Thursday, June 7. Tented tasting stations will be set up all around the open-air shopping center, while James Boogaloo Bolden Blues Band will play on the live music stage (take a lawn chair or picnic blanket with you if you'd like to kick your feet up and relax with the tunes). A spacious building that once housed a Borders will be the home of "Author & Artist Alley," where authors Rebecca Lang, John Demers and Elizabeth Stone will be signing autographs.

You'll also want to take advantage of the fact that you can go Around the World in 80 Sips at Minute Maid Park on Friday, June 8. At the ballpark's Union Station Lobby, Alyssa Rapp, founder and CEO of Bottlenotes, will guide you through the world of wine-drinking via "stops" at France, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Sonoma and Napa Valley. This year marks the first year that Houston is the recipient of an "Around the World in 80 Sips" event, which is held several times a year at cities like Los Angeles and Chicago.

Sips, Suds & Sliders will also take place on Friday, June 8, at The Woodlands Waterway Marriott. This event is for you, burger and beer lovers. The Texas-themed, casual event is centered around a gourmet slider competition but will also include value wines and plenty of specialty beers.

Throughout the week, keep your eyes peeled for Chef Darren McGrady, otherwise known as "The Royal Chef," for his service to Queen Elizabeth II of England and Diana, Princess of Wales. He prepared day-to-day menus for Princess Diana, William and Harry, as well as catering for private and official lunch and dinner parties. McGrady is now an author, personal chef and a culinary consultant; he'll be signing books and appearing at various events.

For a complete lineup of events and to purchase tickets, take a peek at The Woodlands Wine & Food Week Web site.

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Carla Soriano