GrapeFest spreads the happiness

GRAPEVINE -- For years, the Giterman family wanted to start a business.

Immigrants from Russia, they took that chance three years ago when they started selling crepes, the iconic French pancake.

Never-ending lines snaking up to Crepe Crazy's booth during the 24th annual GrapeFest wine festival show that the idea is a winner.

"Opening a business of our own has always been our dream," Sergei Giterman said via paper and pen while taking a break Sunday from the constant flow of customers.

The answers are written because Sergei Giterman and his family are deaf.

Communication at their booth is done by using sign language, by reading lips and by customers pointing to the menu to show which items they want to order. Buyers quickly switched from speech to fingers when ordering a particular of the small pancakes.

"We saw the market for crepes, especially that it's new in Texas," Giterman wrote. "It's such a treat that not many of us are aware of; we're here to spread the happiness."

After just one bite of a ham and cheese crepe, happiness was apparent as John Scheer muttered how delicious his crepe tasted.

"The texture is very light, not dense, a true crepe ... very pliable," said Scheer, a restaurant manager and chef from Lewisville.

Scheer was also impressed by the variety of sweet and savory crepes offered. But he was most taken by the method of communication employed in the booth during a peak crunch period.

"They are in a rush, but knocking them out left and right," Scheer said.

Kitchens get intense, and the Giterman family appeared to have some intense moments, but looked like they were having fun in the process, Scheer said.

"You don't hear them yelling, though I'm sure there's some yelling going on," Scheer said.

Running the booth with Sergei were his mom, dad and a family friend, all of whom live in Austin.

Sergei Giterman said his grandmother used to make crepes for Sergei's dad, Vladimir Giterman, when he was a child.

Vladimir Giterman is starting a catering business, which will be ready to launch in two months.

Sergei Giterman's mother, Inna, works for the Texas School for the Deaf as a teacher's assistant and is pursuing an education degree.

Gayle Hall, director of festivals and events for the Grapevine Convention and Visitor's Bureau, said only 23 food vendors are selected out of more than 100 applications.

"At the time we looked at their application, we didn't know there was a handicap," Hall said. "We chose them because of their showmanship, their pictures looked good, and their prices were good."

Lisa Samuel, the bureau's media relations manager, said Saturday that Crepe Crazy's line lasted for seven hours before letting up.

Long queues were the norm at many booths over the weekend, as this year's festival brought record attendance, Samuel said.

The event usually draws about 250,000 people over the four-day stretch. This year, the bureau attracted more unique website hits than ever before and more online ticket sales for the People's Choice Wine Tasting Classic.

"We've had enormous crowds," Samuel said. "And the weather has really cooperated with us this year."

The weather was warm, but the grapes between Courtney Johnson's toes were cold.

Johnson, 22, brought her dad to the event, and both participated in the GrapeStomp competition, making it to the finals Sunday. The team that extracts the most juice wins.

"Cold, gushy and squishy," Johnson said, describing the feel of the grapes as they were juiced by her feet. "I've always wanted to stomp grapes."

Ronnie and Jesika Cook of Euless, whose "Funky Feet" team participated for the first time, won the stomp by producing 36 ounces of juice -- the most ever measured in the past 24 years, organizers said.

Others, such as Joel Harris of Dallas, preferred sipping bubbly at the Champagne Terrace to getting their feet wet.

"It's Sunday, it's relaxing, and I like Champagne," he said. "They have a good selection."

Perhaps less relaxing was watching the Dallas Cowboys game at the Super Wine Experience tent.

Dressed in his Cowboys jersey, Joseph Hoang of Fort Worth said he came to the festival with a friend but intended to go home to watch the game until he spotted the NFL-themed tent and big-screen TV.

Although not drinking beer, Hoang said he was enjoying the white wine tasting during the game.

"I think this is the best idea in the world," he said at halftime. "I just wish the Cowboys were winning."

Meanwhile, St. Rose Winery from the East Texas town of Pittsburg and Messina Hoff of College Station won two gold medals each in the People's Choice competition.

Other golds went to LightCatcher Winery of Fort Worth for its nonvintage Happy Dog Sweet Red; Grapevine's Delaney Vineyards for its 2009 chardonnay; Red Caboose of Meridian for its 2007 Tempranillo; Haak Vineyards of the Southeast Texas town of Santa Fe for its Purple Porpoise, a nonvintage merlot; CrossRoads of Frisco for a nonvintage blush/rosé called My Cheeky Bastard; and Texas Hills of Johnson City for its 2007 cabernet sauvignon, Kick Butt Cab. And it did.

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