After a two-year absence, Tupelo’s arts festival is back to celebrate 50 years with a new name and a spirited new vision.
Written by Leslie Criss | Photographed by Joe Worthem
The first full weekend in May will offer myriad causes for celebration in Tupelo. Of course, it’s Mother’s Day, and in Tupelo that means Gumtree festival. The beloved arts festival will return after a two-year, COVID-compelled hiatus; the 2022 festival will celebrate 50 years of its existence; and it will be the first year of the festival’s new iteration complete with new name: Gumtree Arts & Wine Festival.
Kit Stafford, who helped with the festival from 2010 to 2014, returned to her position as full-time director of the festival in 2019, just in time for the pandemic.
“It was during that time we began talking about breathing new life into Gumtree,” Stafford said. “Events like the festival don’t typically last as long as this one has. They have a run, then they stop. We wanted to do something to increase a regional draw. We love that our community loves Gumtree, and we also want to pull people from a broader area.”
The Gumtree Art Festival began in 1971, the brainchild of three active community members and local art patrons. Jim Ford, Gus Staub and Jim Westbrook, all now deceased, wanted the people of Tupelo to have an opportunity to see and purchase original art. The trio put together the first festival and continued it for more than a decade until Tina Lutz became the director of the Gumtree Museum of Art. The museum continues to host the festival.
When planning a reboot of the arts festival, talk turned to the possibility of including wine.
“Art patrons are typically wine patrons,” Stafford said. “And there’s nothing like a festival for both in northeast Mississippi.”
Until now. Stafford searched for someone to help with the added element of wine and found Melanie Hankins Booth of Starkville. Booth is a Certified Specialist of Wine by the Society of Wine Educators, and a wine educator and certified Wine Cellar Manager and Sommelier by the International Wine and Spirits Guild. To put it simply, Booth is passionate about helping people learn to enjoy and appreciate wine.
“It is my pleasure to be involved in this,” she said of the festival. “It’s the first wine festival in the area, and it’s the 50th year of Gumtree. It’s special.”
This year’s theme is Creativity Uncorked, and the addition of wine to the longtime arts festival is a perfect fit, according to Booth.
“Wine is a combination of art and science,” she said. “As Robert Louis Stevenson said, ‘Wine is poetry in a bottle.’”
One highlight of the festival will be The Palette Tent, where during the day on May 7, there will be brief talks from wine educators and wine makers; and there will be wine tastings, some guided, hosted by trained hosts/hostesses.
“This is for all levels of wine enthusiasts,” Booth said. “From those who are new to wine to longtime wine enthusiasts.”
Also, in The Palette Tent, The South’s Best Art Party will feature food by top chefs paired with a wide variety of wines. Mississippi’s own Wyatt Waters will be on hand with a live art presentation.
Helping with food for the weekend events is Chef Mitch McCamey of Tupelo.
Other festival events on tap include a Sunday Jazz Brunch, Creative Kids Garden, Gumball Birthday Bash with live music by American Aquarium and Neon Pig Smash Burgers, a chalk art contest for all ages and skill levels, plein air artists at work, at least 65 artist booths and more.
Clearly, since planning began in the summer of 2019 for what would eventually be the 2022 festival, much work has been done by many people. And the anticipation is palpable.
“After this long two-year span of no Gumtree, we are so excited to share our new vision,” Stafford said. “I think people will be pleasantly surprised to see the planning that has gone into it. There is truly something for everyone.”
“Don’t just drink wine. Experience it.” That is the advice of Melanie Hankins Booth, a local wine expert who will offer guidance for the Gumtree festival’s new wine events. “My approach to enjoying a nice glass of wine is never more pertinent than in the springtime when the season begs us to come outside and reawaken to the possibilities of our warm, bright futures,” she said. “Be in the moment with the wine, your friends and the sunshine.” With that, she offers Invitation readers her top six wines for springtime, all of which are easily accessible at wine shops in north Mississippi:
#1. Spanish Cava by Freixenet | $15
It’s springtime, and Saturday breakfast on the patio begs for a celebratory glass of bubbles. Open that bottle of French Champagne, Italian prosecco, American sparkling wine (yes, go ahead and try one with a bottle cap!), or treat yourself to the No. 1 imported sparkling wine in the world — the black bottle bubbly, Spanish Cava by Freixenet. Add a splash of orange juice or cranberry juice if you must, but you’ll taste plenty of apple, pear and melon on its own. Stay in your pajamas and add those cheesy, fatty and salty breakfast delights for the perfect pairing.
#2. French Rosé D’ Anjou by Remy Pannier | $13
Rosé all day? How about brunch to get an early start or save this easy drinking French Rosé d’ Anjou by Remy Pannier for dinner with your favorite Asian, Indian or Mexican dishes. These light fruity wines (can you smell the spring strawberries?) pick up their color from brief contact with the skins of the many varieties of red grapes from which they are made. I can personally attest that this bottle is a crowd pleaser. My anonymous entry won a springtime blind tasting competition (voted on by a large crowd of everyday people) at the Mississippi Arts and Entertainment Experience (The Max) in Meridian.
#3. 2020 Riesling by Dr. Loosen’s | $15
Dr. Loosen’s 2020 Riesling is a great “ambassador” for these clean, crisp and slightly sweet German wines that are readily available and affordable. A perfect springtime sipper to awaken your senses by the pool or to pair with fruity chicken salads, grilled salmon or goat cheese.
#4. 2019 Pinot Noir by Erath | $20
You may have trouble pronouncing charcuterie, but you won’t have any trouble enjoying a little meat and cheese on the deck with this 2019 Erath Pinot Noir. Or, impress your friends at the restaurant by ordering a bottle of this easy drinking wine for your table. This light-bodied red wine expresses great fruitiness, acidity and that dryness in your mouth that pulls it all together.
#5. 2019 Côtes Du Rhone by Kermit Lynch | $18
We love our red blends. We like them so much because blends create balance. They combine grapes for their qualities that bring out the best in each other This 2019 Côtes Du Rhone selection by Kermit Lynch blends southern France’s grenache, syrah and mourvèdre grapes (with a little carignan). Fire up the grill with some lamb burgers or your favorite barbecue — but go easy on the sauce so you can taste the deliciousness of this springtime pairing.
#6. Mead by Queen’s Reward Meadery | $25
Queen’s Reward Meadery in Tupelo is a working winery that Mississippi’s growing wine culture can be proud of. Mead is a fermented beverage made from water, yeast and honey. Using only Mississippi honey, Queen’s Reward wine can be sweet or dry and can be fermented with wonderful complimentary ingredients ranging from cran-berry and lemon to spices and habaneros. Even well-known grape varieties like pinot noir are fermented along with the Mississippi honey, as is the case with our featured Scarlet Noir. Pick up some Queen’s Reward from the tasting room (run by proprietors Jeri and Geoff Carter) or at your local wine retailer, and enjoy it with an apple stuffed pork tenderloin or a fresh baked shortbread cookie.
More Wines to Try
It’s always smart to have a familiar, consistent stand-by in your fridge or on your wine rack. “Like those old favorite tennis shoes that you look forward to putting on every Saturday morning,” Booth said. She recommends the following go-to wines:
2018 Jordan Chardonnay. Russian River Valley, California | $35
2018 Kate Arnold Cabernet Sauvignon. Columbia Valley, Washington | $20
2021 Whitehaven Sauvignon Blanc. New Zealand | $20
2020 Santa Margherita Pinot Grigio. Italy | $30
2019 The Velvet Devil Merlot. Washington State | $15