BERKELEY SPRINGS – Organizers of the Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting describe Saturday’s showdown as “the Academy Awards of water competitions.”
The day before Hollywood hands out its Oscars, this Morgan County town will put H2O in the limelight as the 23rd annual event draws contenders from as far away as Bosnia, Japan, Canada, South Korea, Chile and Thailand.
And for the first time ever, an entry from North Dakota will be among the municipal entries sampled by judges at the Berkeley Springs Inn Best Western Conference Center.
Event founder Jeanne Mozier clearly is keen to have waters from all 50 states as part of the competition. “It’s like collecting the state quarters,” she said.
Now Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Dakota are the only states that have never entered the event’s municipal division.
In 1990, Mozier – working with Travel Berkeley Springs, then newly established as the local convention and visitors bureau – lobbied to stage a three-month Winter Festival of Waters to show that Berkeley Springs is a year-round destination.
“That summer, TBS hired a media consultant who advises we need an event to draw attention for each of the three winter months,” Mozier recalls. “She’d heard of a water tasting in San Francisco and tracks down watermaster Arthur von Wisenberger and assembles media judges.”
Mozier organizes other details of the tasting, with help from Tari Hampe, the founder of Tari’s Café, and Jill Klein Rone, who serves as an organizer, media contact and the event’s emcee.
Berkeley Springs on Friday will host a daylong seminar on water issues, including talks from international economic development expert Henry Hidell III and Kathy Gruver, host of TV’s “The Alternative Medicine Cabinet.” All sessions are free and open to anyone interested.
A number of state and local movers and shakers will judge water entries during preliminary rounds of the competition this week and then a crew of travel writers and other media representatives will arrive Saturday for the final round of the competition.
Von Wiesenberger, an internationally recognized water expert who has missed just three years over the festival’s long run, will train judges on just how to rate entries on key attributes including taste, smell and clarity.
The judges will then sample entries in categories including municipal waters, purified drinking waters and bottled waters, both still and sparkling.
The public has a chance to weigh in, too. Throughout the day Saturday, anyone may stop by to taste water along with the judges and to vote for the People’s Choice Award for best packaging.
The 2013 team of judges will include Spirit of Jefferson editor Rob Snyder; Mark Kraham, news director of NBC-25 in Hagerstown, Md.; and longtime Panhandle-based horseracing correspondent Dale Leatherman, formerly president of the Society of American Travel Writers.
Others set to rate their favorites: Nikki Bowman, creator of West Virginia Living magazine; Michael Cervin of BottledWaterWeb.com; Karen Gardner, feature writer with the Frederick (Md.) News-Post; Michele Kayal, editor of American Food Roots; Fluent magazine editor and publisher, Nancy McKeithen of Shepherdstown; freelance writers Kathleen Mangan and Ann Cochran; and Cara Ellen Modisett of the public radio station at Virginia Tech.
Winners in all categories will be announced at a public awards reception starting at 8 p.m.
And then comes the truly manic part of the festival: the “water rush,” when the artful array of some 1,200 bottles of water carefully created by Mozier gets disassembled in a flash.
“The water rush has become world famous,” Mozier said. “Once the awards are presented, we give the signal and folks scramble to take home some of the hundreds of bottles of water that have been used for display.
“It takes about nine hours to set up the display and less than 10 minutes for it all to disappear.”
Mozier said she’s happy and proud that the festival is still going strong after more than two decades.
“We’ve continually created new pieces to meet changing issues,” she explained. “The first year, we had no idea what to expect. No one had ever done anything on this scale before. We found ourselves the day of the event looking at hundreds of bottles of water. What to do? We invented the water array as a stage set. And then faced with the issue of what to do with all the water at the end, we then invented the water rush.”
Still thirsting to learn more about water and the competition? Get your fill at the website run by Travel Berkeley Springs, the local convention and visitors bureau, at berkeleysprings.com.
A look at Berkeley Springs International Water Tasting, by the numbers:
27: Number of entries for the competition’s first year in 1991.
Just 3: Number of venues that have hosted the competition – first Coolfont Resort, then the Country Inn downtown and now the Berkeley Springs Inn Best Western Conference Center.
85: Number of water entries vying for awards this year (as of presstime).
Four: Number of states that have never sent an entry to the competition’s municipal category. (That would be Nevada, Oklahoma, Rhode Island and South Dakota.)
45: Number of different countries that have entered the contest over the years.
93: Number of volunteers who have poured water for judges since the festival’s founding; several return for duty year after year.
Just 3: Number of times the festival’s “founding watermaster” Arthur von Wisenberger has been unable to take part.
80+: Number of sips of different waters judges will take Saturday during training and competition (“at a minimum,” according to organizers).
Seven: Number of categories on which every water is rated.
11: Number of judges involved in Saturday’s water-tasting finale.
1,200: Number of bottles of water that will be snatched up by the public as favors following the announcement of winners Saturday night.
Just once: Number of times event founder Jeanne Mozier has acted as a judge.