These are the most exciting weekends in the entire Louisiana festival calendar. Lafayette is tossing their biggest party of the year with Festival International de Louisiane. This real down-home celebration started yesterday and will go through this Sunday.

We don’t have to tell you that the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is starting its two-week run tomorrow. The 2010 lineup is unprecedented in Jazz Fest’s history, which began in Congo Square in 1970. Who could have foreseen this?

Most of the entertainment writers around here are doing a great job of telling you how to manage such a plethora of musical riches. At this time of year,  the word “cubes” does not refer to the presentation of a steak but rather to scheduling your time to get the most from what the festivals offer.

Then there are the multitude of folks who tell you where to go on the festival grounds, what to eat and what not to bother with. As for beverages, well, your choices are not extensive on the Fairgrounds. There’s beer, water, iced tea and a smattering of other liquids to quench a dusty, sun-baked thirst, but in reality, there’s not much variety and nothing particularly exciting.

It’s interesting that the festival prides itself on great and eclectic food, but the beverages have definitely finished a distant second in this competition. And if you have any thoughts about smuggling in your own stash, well, that may be able to happen if you are very, very clever, but it’s not something you can plan on, nor are you allowed to bring your own according to the fest’s rules and regulations. You may be leaving what you truly wanted to drink at the entry gate for the enjoyment of workers and volunteers.

What that leaves you is a challenge of making the most of your time away from the festival, and here, you have unlimited quality choices. It’s New Orleans and/or Lafayette, after all.

After an intense and tough day of festival-ing, you have earned the right to a quality, really great beverage. 

Keep that goal in mind as you wander the festival grounds. There is life outside the gates, and your physical condition will point you to a great evening or to merely tolerating those loud, drunken, sunburned louts who used to be your friends. 

The insider’s tip is to find some down time after a long day. Get off your feet for a few moments,  and relax with something cool, such as a Pimm’s Cup or even a Guinness. Sip and savor. It’s cool shower time. Leave some gas in your tank for the nighttime because this town won’t quit just because the last notes have been played from the stages. 

WHILE YOU ARE OUT THERE, KNOW THIS

A new report from a medical study, centered on women and published in the professional journal Clinical and Experimental Allergy (on everyone’s coffee table, right?), notes that if you suffer from sniffling, sneezing and other respiratory conditions during allergy season, you may want to go easy on alcoholic beverages.

Alcohol products exacerbate the symptoms of asthma and hay fever, which includes sneezing, itching, headaches and coughing. Interestingly, the study concludes, the issue is probably not the alcohol itself.

Beer, wine and spirits all contain histamine, which is produced by yeast and bacteria during the fermentation process. Histamine is the chemical that sets off the allergy symptoms.

In addition, wine and beer contain sulfites, another group of compounds that are known to set off asthmatic reactions and other allergy-like symptoms.

I mention this because this pollen season has been particularly active. Just look at your new car color, green. And if you are roaming around in the great outdoors all day seeking fun foods and good music, you are already taking in a good amount of pollen.

Then a little beer and later on a bit of wine –– well, if you are susceptible to allergies, you may want to mix a good bit of water into your regime. It won’t add to the party, but it may save you from a bad tomorrow.

WAY TO GO, CALISTOGA!

It’s been a long time –– and a lot of rancor –– coming, but Calistoga, Calif., that authentic Old West town in northern Napa, finally earned their AVA.

For those of you not familiar, AVA stands for American Viticulture Area and is an official U.S. government designation indicating a winegrowing area has met rigid standards for similar soil types, weather conditions, history and culture. I have no idea what the last two have to do with agricultural similarity, but they are a part of the test.

Calistoga wanted an AVA designation because such a term adds value to the land and creates familiarity and identification when noted on the wine label. Anyway it was a long struggle for Calistoga because one of the rules of an AVA is that the grapes of all wines labeled with the name of the AVA must come from that area.

In a strange twist, there was a wine with the name of Calistoga Cellars and another wine was using Calistoga in their name, and none of the grapes in either wine came from Calistoga. So the government told the wineries that wanted the AVA designation to work it out with the renegade wineries. 

Here’s how they all worked it out: new friends in high places. Under the administration of President George W. Bush, the Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, the bureaucracy charged with establishing AVAs, told the 24 Calistoga winemakers who wanted the AVA that this was a local fight, not a federal one. And they refused to issue the desired AVA designation. 

In comes President Obama, along with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who owns a vineyard in nearby St. Helena; and U.S. Congressman Mike Thompson, whose district includes Calistoga and who owns a 20-acre vineyard in the area and who exercises every morning with the president’s chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel; and then there’s the White House wine steward, Daniel Shanks, who once lived in Napa Valley and was the manager of the restaurant at Domaine Chandon winery down the road.
 
These folks “persuaded” the two wineries that were using Calistoga in their names but not the fruit from the region to change. Big surprise: Change they did.

EVERYONE KNOWS THAT. OR DO THEY?

The past couple of years Australia has been on a rough track.

Their wines have fallen out of favor on the worldwide market, and the quality level from certain areas has not been up to wine critics’ standards, whatever that means.

Then comes the worldwide recession, and Australian wines are not perceived by casual buyers as values, replaced by wines from Chile and Argentina in that category.

So the common knowledge is that Australia as a wine-producing country is on its butt. Then how to explain the fact that the number of Australian wine producers has just exceeded 2,400? In 1990, the number of producers was 620, which doubled in 2000 to 1197 and now, 10 years later, has doubled again.

That’s a net gain every year of 122 wine producers entering the industry, or a rate of about one every three days.

Australia, sluggish? The reality says not.

Happy Festing, y’all.