This year’s steeplechase races at the Montpelier Hunt Races were a welcome outing where friends and family participated in festive equestrian activities on a beautiful fall day. Once again, Wine & Country Life sponsored the Montpelier Tailgate Contest 2021, and we were impressed with this year’s entrants! Joining us this year and providing her culinary expertise was Chef Jenae Jenkins and her assistant from the Inn at Meander. The judges rated the tailgates on overall presentation, how well the entrants illustrated the day’s theme of “Our Bond From Across the Pond,” which celebrated the races connection to its British heritage, and on the quality and originality of the food and beverages.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

First Place Winner of the Montpelier Tailgate Contest

This year’s first place winner really pulled out all the stops, creating a table setting for guests complete with fresh flowers and a stunning array of homemade foods, desserts and separate bar service. The fall floral arrangement displayed delightful autumnal colors and the tailgate’s extravagance wowed both judges and guests alike. The judges really enjoyed the Spotted Dick British pudding, the outstanding Scotch eggs, the pasties, the delicious cranberry tart and the great herb and cucumber sandwiches. “The attention to detail was extraordinary.” said one of the judges.  

The food displays were peppered with equestrian- and race-themed décor (some of which were handmade), and the guests were even treated to a photo booth with her Majesty the Queen! Suitably dressed in sophisticated British attire, the hostess was welcoming and gracious. Perfectly exhibiting the theme of “Our Bond from Across the Pond”—an ode to traditional steeplechase ties in Britain—this first-place winning tailgate was a proper and impressive success!

Second Place Winner of the Montpelier Tailgate Contest

Taking second place, this next tailgate charmed the judges with its British display and foods. With her Majesty the Queen residing over the table, the flower arrangement was stunning. If you look closely, you may even spot the Royal corgis, joyfully positioned at the front of the table, inviting guests to take a bite of the feast fit for the Queen.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

Beautifully festive with the day’s theme, this tailgate’s presentation was spot on, and more importantly, every dish was excellent. These ladies really know how to turn picnic cuisine into gourmet finger foods, including the perfectly cooked asparagus sandwiches below. The Victoria sponge cake (also pictured below) included various embellishments of English culture, the Queen’s Guard and Union Jack flags, along with a layer of sliced strawberries to accompany the fresh cream. Another standout was the Pimm’s Iced Tea. Invented by London bar owner James Pimm in 1823, it was the quintessential British drink for the day.

Not to be overlooked were the charming displays—a child’s pair of Wellies and a stick horse, and a trunk the hostess decoupaged with British Royalty! These tailgate winners considered every element when designing their display, securing them a second place award in the Montpelier Hunt Races tailgate contest.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

Third Place Winner of the Montpelier Tailgate Contest

Set up in a gorgeous spot for viewing the races, this veteran duo of ladies once again put together a wonderful tailgate display. Guests were greeted by a charming fox at the center of a charcuterie spread, elegantly dressed in his riding gear to match the jockeys racing nearby. 

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

Honoring the day’s theme, the ladies served tea, cocktails and delicious homemade British foods. The judges particularly enjoyed the Northumberland pan haggerty potato and cheese dish (seen below) and the English lemon and herb roasted chicken. An elegant tea service and fully stocked bar warded off any race day chills. If you’d like to see more dishes like these from years past, find more inspiration in our Delicious Tailgate Dishes and Easy Tailgate Dish Ideas online articles. 

Fourth Place Winner of the Montpelier Tailgate Contest

Small but mighty, this tailgate spoke beautifully to the theme, was perfectly presented and everything was delicious. The use of blue and white ware and sparkling silver atop the bright green tartan linen made for a gorgeous presentation.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

The dishes on display included the best shrimp and grits our Chef judge has ever had! The deviled eggs were delicious and the Bloody Marys outstanding. The beautiful and tasty race-themed cookies were perfectly perched atop a beautiful scalloped cake stand and spoke wonderfully to the day’s theme. 

Honorable Mentions

The judges really enjoyed each of this year’s tailgates and the many participants who put on a terrific display of food, drink and fun. They were utterly charmed by this antique truck and how the colors of the décor where so nicely cohesive. Delicious foods were even served hot off the grill. While the British theme was not as strong as others, the décor and foods were just terrific.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

Some of our tailgaters were history buffs and made a terrific effort to connect us to British and American history. The tailgaters below are one such example who did a great job celebrating veterans of World War One with a remembrance poppy being offered to each guest and adorning the delicious strawberry shortcake.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

Another history buff, this tailgater thoughtfully curated a display showcasing some equestrian history and historical objects in addition to a lovely spread of delicious homemade foods and an memorable signature drink made with blueberries!

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

Fun and festive, these tailgaters put on a terrific display of food and drinks along the rails with touches of equestrian décor. Everyone was dressed in British flare and enjoyed another fun day at the races.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

This elegant tailgate, themed to honor the British Navy, did an especially luxurious job of accommodating guests with cozy seating along the fencing, serving locally catered food with bartenders making drinks to order.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

Other tailgates the judges really enjoyed included the amazing homemade cupcakes (below) and the roast beef with that unforgettable gravy! They also enjoyed the colorful British decor and charming antique barware and cucumber sandwiches of the tailgater seen below top right. And, last but not least, they loved the fun Great British Bake Off tailgate (also below) with a delicious cake that would surely have won the Bake Off.

Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life
Montpelier Hunt Races, Image by © RL Johnson for Wine & Country Life

Congratulations to all of the Montpelier Tailgate Contest 2021 participants at this year’s Montpelier Hunt Races! Already planning for next year? Make sure to visit the Wine & Country Tailgating Guide for expert tips and advice from professional event planners and lifelong equestrians to help you tailgate like a winner next year!  ~

R. L. JOHNSON is our co-publisher and creative director, Robin Johnson Bethke. She began her career as a professional photographer in Los Angeles before moving into graphic design and art direction when she relocated to Charlottesville in 1994. As our company’s co-founder and visionary, she enjoys all aspects of the publishing process from story conception to graphic design to photography. Her work is often seen in many of our publications.

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Wine & Country celebrates elevated living in Virginia Wine Country. Wine & Country Life, a semi-annual life & style magazine, and Wine & Country Weddings, an annual art book celebrating elegant Virginia weddings, are complemented by the Wine & Country Shop in Ivy, VA—a beautiful lifestyle boutique that brings the pages of the magazines to life. The Shop features over 40 Virginia artisans with everything from tailgating essentials and Dubarry attire to locally made foods and award-winning Virginia wines and craft beverages for your next event. Wine & Country covers the grape-growing foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains from Lynchburg to Leesburg, including points in between like Charlottesville and Middleburg. Ivy Life & Style Media also creates other projects, including CharlottesvilleFamily.com, a collection of local resources including a popular calendar of events, family services guides and features on education, health and family day trips for parents and teachers in Charlottesville, as well as the CharlottesvilleWelcomeBook.com a guide to resources for Charlottesville tourists and newcomers.