Wilmington foodies celebrate at inaugural festival
Wilmington Wine and Food Festival
Sunday, May 19th, 2 p.m. – 5 p.m.
St. Thomas Preservation Hall
208 Dock St. • Tickets: $48
Wilmington has seen its fair share of foodie events culminate over the past few years, from fall and spring’s Encore Restaurant Week to the annual Got to Be Competition Dining Series Fire on the Dock, to the StarNews’ Taste of Wilmington, which concluded in 2011. Even Wrightsville Beach picked up their own “Taste Of” in 2012 and will continue highlighting the island’s best eats come November 2013 in their second-annual festival.
Showcasing the city’s crème de la crème, a host of culinarians and wine aficianados have come together to inaugurate what’s sure to become another popular foodie foray. The Wilmington Wine and Food Festival takes place Sunday at St. Thomas Preservation Hall, downtown Wilmington. Inspired by the 2012 Beaufort Wine and Food Weekend, husband-and-wife wine enthusiasts Amy Siler of Ocean South Importers and Shawn Underwood of Juice Wine Purveyors paired up with Wilmington Wine Shop owner Chrissy Bonney and Beth Flaherty of The Country Vintner to recreate a culinary event of the same caliber. It begged the question: “Why hasn’t Wilmington been able to annually support such a festival?”
“When we returned from Beaufort, we convened at Wilmington Wine,” Bonney tells, “and brought in Denise and Mike Summerlin of Choice Specialty Wines, Sheri Withorn of Freedom Beverage, James Doss of Rx Restaurant, Allan Bunch of Coastal Cupcakes and David Koebley of The Country Vintner, to have a brain-storming session and outline our goals and ideas.”
Their grassroots effort has manifested with 10 participating restaurants (Fortunate Glass, Rx, Manna, Basics, The Olive Café & Wine Bar, Aubriana’s, 9 Bakery & Lounge, Little Dipper, Coastal Cupcakes, Tamashii Sushi and Spoons) and over 100 different wines showcased from 11 vendors. The latter is what will make the festival stand apart from others.
“We aim to be different by focusing on the marriage of plate and glass,” Shawn Underwood maintains. “In contrast to Taste of Wilmington, we will have a balance of food and wine vendors in more of an upbeat, energetic festival atmosphere.”
The showdown will be a competition as well. Attendees will be required to transform into full gastronomes, as they choose which restaurant’s dish is the best in both sweet and savory rankings, which wine tastes best in both white and red categories, and which pairing of both wine and food balances optimal flavor. The People’s Choice will be announced after the festival.
During the event, a panel of 10 industry judges will weigh in on their professional thoughts through a blind-tasting. They’ll award medals to the top three reds and whites of the show, the top two savory and top two sweet dishes, and the best pairings of wine with dishes. “The wine vendors and chefs are working together [to make] this ‘a true epicurean experience,’” Sheri Withorn explains.
Medals will be given, all hand-crafted by local artist Colleen Ringrose. They are made from encaustic wax, layered and melted onto a wooden disc, which marries color and showcases depth. “She uses a transfer technique to apply to the festival logo onto the award and will be stamping each with the event year in a metallic ink that melds into the wax,” Bonney explains. The awards will be displayed on vendor tables, too.
“Experienced and knowledgeable industry representatives will be pouring and speaking about their wines,” Bonney details. Some of the wines to be showcased include a $165 2001 Chateau Peby Faugeres Bordeaux Blend from St. Emilion. There also will be a 2011 Andrew Rich Prelude Pinot Noir from Willamette Valley, a Corbieres Carignan by Chateau Vaugelas and Bocelli Sangiovese, “a great entry-level wine from an outstanding high end Italian producer,” according to Bonney. “Our reps [found] gems in every price range and of intriguing varietals, and blends that you wouldn’t get to taste everyday. It’s not just your ho-hum Chard or Cab.”
Though a few specialty beers will be available, the real focus will remain on the vino. Most notably, they will appeal to palates across the board.
Some of the nibbles slated to taste include a citrus and a soy-based ceviche by Chef Mark Scharaga of Tamashii. The folks at Fortunate Glass wil present a tamale with sweet corn masa, chicken and mole sauce with chipoltle sour cream. Chef James Doss of Rx will serve strawberry and cucumber gazpacho with NC crab meat and mint, as noted on their new spring menu. Plus, Doss will be featuring what Rx has become most known for: pork.
“We want our local businesses to benefit,” Bonney explains, “and we want people to take away from this experience the confidence to try something different off the wine list at their favorite restaurants. For those restaurants to put more daring varietals on the list. For the wine shop to have more outgoing customers, who either know what to take home for a meal they’re preparing, or aren’t afraid to ask their local shop owner to show them something new.”
In fully integrated fashion, the festival will highlight local charitable organizations, by donating proceeds from ticket sales (after deference of festival cost) and from a raffle. The beneficiaries will be 1,000 People Who Care and Cape Fear River Watch.
“From the beginning, it’s been about promoting and bettering Wilmington,” Bonney explains. “It made perfect sense to support those organizations that are fully vested in the future of our community. Both charities pride themselves in beautifying and preserving some of Wilmington’s best assets.”
Tickets to the raffle will cost $5 each and can secure folks an opportunity to win gift baskets worth $400 or more in swag. Items have been donated by Cameron Art Museum, Freaker USA, Elijah’s and Pilot House restaurants, Gravity Records, kopious jewelry collection, Ray Baca Photography and more.
Though demonstrations and exhibitions are not on tap for 2013, the future of the festival is already being taken into consideration. The goal of the committee is to expand the festival to include wine-maker dinners, cooking demos and chef workshops—maybe even a BBQ and beer event. For 2013 the focus remains on allowing food and wine vendors to reach a hungry audience to promote education of pairings.
Live music will be played at the event by Axiom with Perry Smith, Fred Flynn and The Stones, and the Jesse Stockton Band. As a bonus, attendees will be able to place orders at discounted pricing through local wine shops: Wilmington Wine, Divine Wines, Fermental, Fortunate Glass, House of Wine and Cheese, Taste The Olive, The Seasoned Gourmet, Wilmington Homebrew Supply, and The Wine Rack.
“Wilmington has this great foodie community, but the wine’s still catching up, so here’s an opportunity for us to showcase how wine and food go together,” Siler concludes.
Only 300 tickets are available and can be purchased at the aforementioned participating wine shops by cash or check, as well as online at www.wilmingtonwineandfood.com for $48.