ESCONDIDO — Grape Day Festival in Escondido is dead. Long live Grape Day Festival. That, in essence, has served as the history of an event which has come and gone for more than 100 years in the city.
In 2018, Grape Day Festival took a hiatus for the first time since 1996, though one major piece of it persisted. That is, the Grape Day 5K, which celebrated its eighth anniversary Saturday, Oct. 6 by weaving runners throughout the city’s downtown core on Grand Avenue.
More than 600 people participated in the run, as did many other spectators, local high school cheerleading squads and the local police force.
The Escondido Sunrise Rotary Club led the way in organizing the 5K, which serves as the organization’s biggest annual fundraising event. Jim Ponder, member of the Escondido Sunrise Rotary Club and Grape Day 5K race director, told The Coast News that 100 percent of all net proceeds will go to charities, organizations, and initiatives supported by the group. Much of the money raised from the Grape Day 5K will go to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, which has been a partner of the Sunrise Rotary Club’s for many years.
For Simon Vieaux, a physical education teacher at Rose Elementary School in Escondido, the 5K opened up an opportunity for two of his low-income students which they may not have otherwise had.
Because of their most active participatory efforts in Vieaux’s before school running club, Sebastian, 8 years old (third-place finisher, boys aged 1 to 9) and Guadalupe, 9 years old (first-place finisher, girls aged 1 to 9), both got free entry into the run. Vieaux’s request for this was granted by the Grape Day 5K organizers — giving the two the chance to complete their first ever 5Ks.
“The incentive of running the 5K has been well-known to the students since the start of the school year,” said Vieaux, noting that Sebastian and Guadalupe come to running club four days a week before school. “It has been a tight race for the spots and I only informed the students who earned the place, a week before the race. As their teacher, seeing them complete this feat made me so proud. I actually got on phone immediately and was bragging to our school principal and their classroom teachers.”
Which all leaves the big question: what went wrong in 2018?
The Grape Day Festival’s 2018 break was due to a combination of budget cuts from the city beginning with the 2009-2010 budget under then-Mayor Lori Holt Pfeiler and persisting throughout the mayoral tenure for Mayor Sam Abed, an aging and ever-shrinking volunteer base and decreasing level of civic participation in the event — and the accompanying loss of revenue.
It was a decision made by the board of directors of the Escondido History Center, which is headquartered Grape Day Park, the historical downtown Escondido home base of the Grape Day Festival and an organization which has administered the celebration since it rose from the ashes again in 1996.
The budget cash provided by the city of Escondido, Fox explained, was not all it took to put on the event. But, she noted, it was key seed money to get the ball rolling for the Grape Day Festival on an annual basis.
In both the 2007-2008 budget and 2008-2009 budget, the city of Escondido funded the Grape Day Festival to the tune of more than $6,000, also providing more than $700 for the Grape Day Parade during both budget cycles.
On and off since 1905, Grape Day Festival has existed as a celebration of grape harvesting in Escondido, in particular grapes of the Muscat variety, or those used in wine and raisin production. Though wine production carries on in Escondido’s San Pasqual Valley, Grape Day and grape production are not what they were over a century ago.
Robin Fox, director of the Escondido History Center, told The Coast News that she felt the importance of Grape Day Festival was connecting Escondido’s residents to the city’s historical roots, exhibiting to those attending who has paved the way for what the city has become. It may return, she commented, but likely in a different form which is more sustainable to those who make the event possible.
“We apologize for disappointing anyone, but hope that the community feels free to stop by our museum complex at Grape Day Park to see all that we continue to offer throughout the year in the County’s second largest History Center,” Fox said in a press release published by the Escondido History Center on Aug. 30.
Ponder told The Coast News that a steering committee has been formed to revitalize the broader Grape Day Festival for 2019. He said that, so far, discussions have centered on continuing the morning 5K, creating a family-friendly educational-centric event for the afternoon portion, and getting the local wine community involved in a nighttime affair.
More on what’s in the works, said Ponder, will be announced in the coming weeks.