As Valentine’s Day fast approaches, imagine Wilmington’s already romantic historic downtown. Now, add in an immaculately orchestrated European street-market vibe—think Pairs—and the vending of wine and chocolate. Really evokes the pang of Cupid’s arrow, no? Well, this is exactly what patrons of Wilmington’s third annual Wine and Chocolate Festival can expect.
Finding its footing 10 years ago as a chocolate festival, the event has since evolved to include wine. Their efforts, though tasty and romantic, also serve to benefit the areas elderly. Produced by the Volunteer Older Citizens Action League (VOCAL), proceeds from the event go to supporting senior services.
“When the annual budget is expended or when there is a demand for more of a specific service—such as home delivered meals, family caregiver support, Ensure, medical transportation—the proceeds are given to enhance or continue the senior center’s services,” event coordinator Marianna Stacy explains. This year the coordinators aim to raise $75,000.
In 2003, amidst a tight-budget year, Gale Ginsberg, a social worker at the senior center, brain-stormed holding an event—Chocolate Fantasy Adventure—for about 200 people in order to prevent the eradication of services. The first year far surpassed expectations as 1,200 to 1,500 people attended. As the event grew, so did the aspirations of the coordinators. In 2007 an opening-night party featuring wine kicked-off the chocolate festival.
“At the end of the night, [the wineries] asked to stay for the rest of the weekend and we agreed,” Stacy divulges. With growing crowds, and a successful venture into wine, event coordinators decided that when they moved the event from the senior center to the downtown Coastline Conference and Event Center, they would officially wed chocolate and wine.
Taking place on Friday, January 31st, through Sunday, February 2nd, the event will once again come alive with indulgences abound. This year’s events will showcase 25 new vendors, including Black Mountain Chocolates, Big Apple Bakery and Sauceez. In terms of vintners, this year’s festival will feature more dry wines and vendors from the Yadkin Valley and Piedmont areas of NC—like Shadow Springs Vineyard, Windsor Cellars Winery and Ginger Creek Winery. Chocolate purveyors South ‘n’ France, Dee Lee’s Delights, Carolina Candy Company, Choco Geo, So Sweet Chocolates, One Belle Bakery, La Gemma and Little Dipper will return. Last year’s Best in Show—Flint Hill Vineyards—and Southern Charm Winery will be present this year.
The artisans’ booths will include boast products by Wrenn Pottery, Wilmington 360, Woodturners, Coastal Keepsakes, Always A Happy Hour, Coastal Carolina Natural Soaps, Jess Ann Jewelry, Oceanaire Dreamer, Cork To Barrel, Trendy Totez, and Green Goddess Essentials.
On Friday from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. will be the grand tasting. Attendees will delight in the products of over 50 wineries, chocolatiers, bakeries, and specialty food purveyors. Evoking gasps will be the over-30-foot-tall-lit Eiffel Tower. The set-piece will augment the Moulin Rouge themed decor executed by Erin Rhyne Designs. People at the event can also feast their eyes on a candy-apple red Audi, and have their picture taken at the Audi-Cape Fear’s photo-booth.
The night will be typified by delicious hors d’oeuvres prepared by Gibbs-Efting Catering. The Efting family owns David’s Deli at Wrightsville Beach, and Ryan Gibbs partners with them in a number of their endeavors. The caterers hold the contracts for food services for the Senior Resource Center. They provide food for PACE (the Program of All-Inclusive Care for the Elderly).
Live entertainment will come from Wilmington’s own, The Schoolboys. They will perform a number of genres, including rock hits from the ‘70s, ‘80s and jazz.
The night will encompass a cash beer and cigar bar provided by Chapel Hill’s Carolina Brewery and downtown Wilmington’s Cigar Exchange. They will occupy the Riverview Room Bar and Terrace.
As well, comedy will be provided by the Nutt House Improv Troupe as a result of Timmie Sherrill, winner of the Charleston Comedy Festival. He will perform along with Louis Bishop, Madison Davis, Lew Morgante, Colton Demonte, and Steve Marcinowski.
The marketplace will be open on Saturday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, from noon to 4 p.m. will be the marketplace. The family-friendly celebrations will offer the vendors nestled in their “bistro” or “shop” settings ready to give samples and sell their products. Just in time for Valentine’s Day, will be a wrapping station. The booth will serve to craft purchases into gift baskets.
In addition, the Upstairs Kid Korner, located over the Riverview Room, will offer kid’s activities to foster a family-friendly environment for the event. The musical stylings of local artists such as Stray Local, El Jaye Johnson, Dylan Linehan, Madafo and Roger Davis, Susan Savia, and Nicole Thompson/Judson Hurd will permeate the shopping area. Patrons can grab lunch at Wilmington Tea Room’s Café; as well, there will be culinary demonstrations hosted by Skip Laskody.
On Sunday only, there will be a Wilmington Pop-up Market by Handmade Wilmington on the front deck of the Coastline. Handmade Wilmington, a local group of artists, has become known locally through their impromptu vending endeavors—all of which benefit a local cause. Their profits from Sunday will benefit VOCAL’s cause.
Tickets for the event are $45 in advance for the grand tasting and $50 at the door. For admission to the marketplace, it’s $15 in advance and $20 at the door. New this year is a seniors, children and military rate for $10 in advance and $15 at the door. The same prices apply to groups of 10 or more adults. Tickets can be purchased on the event website or area Harris Teeters.
“[I love] seeing the [growing] awareness for the need to give seniors what they need as they age,” Stacy says. “[My favorite part is] when I see people enjoying themselves and feeling good that they’ve made a contribution toward the wellness and happiness of seniors in our community.”DETAILS
Wine and Chocolate Festival
Coastline Conference and Event Center • 501 Nutt Street
Fri., Jan 31st, 7-10 p.m.
Tickets: $45 adv. / $50 at door
Sat., Feb 1st, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Sun. Feb. 2nd, noon- 4 p.m.
Tickets: $10- $20