365 Things to Do in Memphis #121: The Beale Street Wine Race

Posted by Holly Whitfield | April 30th 2012 2728 0

The annual Beale Street Wine Race is one of the wildest, most debaucherous events on Beale Street that no one knows about. Assignment #121 in the 365 Things to Do in Memphis is to go (if you're over 18 – the Wine Race is no place for children).

Beale Street Wine Race, Memphis, Tenn.

The Wine Race, which bills itself as the unofficial start to Memphis in May, is sort of like an elementary school field day for the restaurant industry. The afternoon (always the last Sunday in April) starts with a parade into Handy Park where competitors are judged on their floats.

Then, there's the Queen of the Vine contest, in which female servers and bartenders compete in an ersatz beauty contest / dance off.  Legend has it that one year, the Queen of the Vine contest was cancelled due to too much nudity the year before.

Queen of the Vine, Beale St. Wine Race, Memphis, Tenn.

The contestants wear skimpy homemade costumes (many of them wine themed) and are judged on their dancing skills and ability to answer a Memphis-related trivia question in front of a raucous audience and three on-stage judges. This year's winner was the contestant from the Blind Bear – points to her for wearing knee-high furry boots in 85 degree weather.

Between the events (which also include a grape stomping contest), teams mill around Beale in their matching t-shirts and cheer on their co-workers and friends from other restaurants. There's an overwhelming sense of friendly competition and  booze-fueled congeniality to the whole event.

Beale Street Wine Race, Memphis, Tenn.

The main event, though, is the actual wine race, in which four-person teams (some in costume) compete to see who can run a tray of full wine glasses the fastest without spilling.The block of Beale between Handy Circle and Fourth is blocked off and divided into three lanes (complete with low cinderblock and two-by-four hurdles). The race relay – at each end of the street, there are tables where the next runner has to uncork a bottle of wine, pour a glass and then run down the street to pass the tray to the next runner. The first runner runs with one bottle and glass on the tray, the last runner has four.

Beale Street Wine Race, Memphis, Tenn.

Since there are a ton of teams, the race is run in heats. In the first heat, the team from Spindini completely dominated – they had clearly practiced beforehand. As the races went on, though, there were a lot more spills, and some teams gave up and started drinking their wine.

The Beale Street Wine Race happens annually on the last Sunday in April and starts around 1 p.m. You do have to be on a restaurant team to compete, but anyone is welcome to watch.


Show Comments


  1. @fantasyrideout says:

    I hope no real wine is hurt in the production of this event…

  2. Danzo says:

    A huge amount of bad wine is wasted, donated by the local wineries.
    Not always the last Sunday in April, but always the last Sunday before BSMF (Music Fest).
    They did not skip a year, they just announced one year that any nudity would disqualify its team. When you look at other cities' nude bike rides and other stuff, you really have to wonder about Memphis.
    As a MIM photosquad member for many years, we were sorry to see this event removed from the official MIM event list, and getting censored.

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