Last year, Chrissy Absi Bonney, owner of Wilmington Wine off Castle Street, oversaw the first Wilmington Wine and Food Festival, along with her Bacchus’ Brood group: Shawn Underwood of Whole Foods, Amy Siler of Divine Wines, Sheri Withorn of Ararat, David Koebly and Beth Flaherty of Country Vintner, Zak Kilson of Wilmington Wine, Mike and Denise Summerlin of Grapevine Distributors, and Heather Smith of Juice Wine Purveyors. The one-day event, held at St. Thomas Preservation Hall, raised $3,000 for local nonprofits 1,000 People Who Care and the Cape Fear River Watch. Returning in 2014, it has evolved into a three-day fundraiser for the Bellamy Mansion and Domestic Violence Shelter and Services, Inc.
“It was our goal from the beginning to grow the festival into a multi-day event with a diverse range of interactive epicurean experiences highlighting the area’s unique culture,” Bonney says. “We wanted to continue our support of local charities that make a difference in our community. The historic integrity of our city is defined by grand antebellum homes such as the Bellamy Mansion. The Open Gate Domestic Violence Shelter empowers victims and their families to break the cycle of domestic violence by providing shelter and ongoing support services. Unfortunately, this issue is often made worse by alcoholism, and we wanted to support their mission of providing public awareness and prevention programs.”
The festival will host top-notch area chefs and restaurateurs, along with wine, beer and spirit vendors. It will kick off with a pre-festival Bellamy Progressive Tasting on May 1st at 6:30 p.m. The event boasts the historic architecture of Wilmington, as guests tour across four homes in the historic district of downtown to sample wine and hor d’oeuvres. Pours will come from Carr Vineyards’ owners and winemakers Jessica and Ryan Carr, and Brazos Wine Imports’ Brian Ravitsky, and Valkyrie Selections. Tickets ($40) include two wines at each home, as well as paired bites and desserts from five local caterers (call 910-251-3700 to reserve).
The official festival kickoff takes place Friday night with a BBQ wrapped in a Kentucky Derby theme and sponsored by Trey Herring’s Carolina Bourbon. Three local bartenders will compete in a Derby-inspired cocktail mix-off made with Carolina Bourbon. Likewise, the Italian liqueur, Amaro Montenegro, will be incorporated into the signature drinks.
“All bartenders [who wanted to be considered] submitted their drinks to a judging panel a week prior to the festival,” Bonney tells. “The top three will go head to head at the cocktail party, emceed by [local food writer] Liz Biro.”
Attendees will be able to vote on the drink samples. As well, the evening will feature a chef BBQ sauce competition, again with votes culled by ticket-holders. Plus, local musicians will be playing throughout the night.
The main event, the Corks and Forks Grand Tasting, takes place Saturday from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m., and features a plethora of local eateries and beverage vendors. Returning to the lineup from 2013 are The Fortunate Glass, The Basics, Topsee Tulip Frosting (originally Coastal Cupcakes), and The Little Dipper. As well, Rx and their new sister restaurant, Pembroke’s, will make a comeback featuring their pork-centric signatures.
“CAM will be creating a vegetarian dish,” Bonney tells, concocted with shucked corn and chile-lime butter, queso fresco and micro greens. “Blue Surf is doing beef brisket braciole, stuffed with Johnston County ham, roasted red peppers and Swiss chard.”
Along with The Melting Pot’s chocolate-covered strawberries, folks will get a taste of 9 Bakery and Lounge’s smoked pork belly over yucca mash, topped with a mango gelee. Mega Maki will serve a duo of rolls, featuring the Coastal Vibe (fish wrapped with charred pineapple and poblano pepper and cilantro cream sauce) and Inland Roll (roasted pork wrapped in pickled cucumbers with red onions and scallions, with a sweet and spicy Asian vinaigrette). The Velvet Freeze will scoop out honey-lavender ice cream and lemon basil Italian ice, while Canapé will dish out a smoked fish bite. YoSake and San Juan Cafe round out the competitors, along with 24 beer and wine vendors handing out samples, too.
“We set out to include both new and old restaurants and chefs that embodied the spirit of our ever-growing culinary city,” Bonney says. “We want to help portray Wilmington as a foodie destination, much like Charleston has established itself.”
Winners of both food and drink categories will be chosen by a panel of local judges. They’ll award best savory and sweet dishes, as well as red and white wines in a variety of genres. Winners will be announced at the Corks and Forks and will receive a glass-etched award, designed by Rob Fogle of Lovelife Art Gallery. Moreover, Sarah Rushing has created a commemorative painting for the festival. “We will sell limited signed-and-numbered artist prints,” Bonney says. “Her artwork can be found at Rx Restaurant.”
On Sunday, the event wraps up with Bubbles, Brews and Street Eats, at 1 p.m. It will host local and regional breweries, along with champagne and mimosas, and a food-truck fair.
“We are still finalizing our Sunday beer participants, but so far they will include Wilmington-based Front Street Brewery, Good Vibes Brewing, Wilmington Brewing Company, and Flytrap Brewing,” Bonney explains. “We are working to add other emerging breweries in the area.”
Aside from Railhouse Brewing Company, out of Aberdeen, NC, as of press, the Bacchus’ Brood was in talks with Sierra Nevada, now a NC brewing hub, to sponsor the event. Beer samples will be poured alongside wineries dishing out the bubbles on Sunday; admission is only $10 and includes five sampling tickets. Additional beer and wine sampling tickets will be available onsite for $1 each. All food-truck sales will be handled separately.
Though last year the festival garnered 200 people during its one day, Bonney expects those numerous to quadruple. “This year we are expanding up to 400 people for Saturday’s grand tasting,” she notes. “We are aiming for 200 for both Friday’s and Sunday’s new events.”
Wilmington Wine and Food Festival
503 Market Street • 910-251-3700
VIP ticket (entry into all three events), $80
Trey Herring’s Bourbon &BBQ Derby Cocktail Party
May 2nd, 7 p.m.
$35/ $60 couple (incl. 2 drink tickets per person)
Corks & Forks Grand Tasting
May 3rd,. 2 p.m. • $45
Bubbles, Brews & Street Eats
May 4th, 1 p.m.
$10 (incl. 5 sample tickets)