by Carl Oscar Olson
There are certain events on Nantucket that mark the time of the year and the change of the season. The Daffodil Festival is undoubtedly the start of spring on the island, while Race Week and The Boston Pops a clear sign that the busy season is peaking. Labor Day brings the frantically busy part of the season to a close, and the Thanksgiving Tree Lighting ushers in the holidays. The start of summer, though, is marked by the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival.
Since 1996, this festival has been a tradition favored by thousands of locals and visitors alike. With crowds coming from across the country and around the world, “Wine Fest” is widely considered one of the nation’s most celebrated wine and food festivals. It honors and engages the island’s unique community and holds true to Nantucket’s one-of-a-kind style.
The event got its start 22 years ago as a one-day wine tasting on the beach in Siaconset, the picture-perfect village on the eastern end of the island. Over the years, with a helping hand from residents, restaurants, and retailers, founder Denis Toner transformed it into one of the most loved and longed-for event in its category. From the humble, hopeful beginnings in ‘Sconset, this year the event will draw more than 3,000 people to its new location at Jetties Beach in the heart of Nantucket. In spite of it’s ever-growing number of restaurants and chefs, vintners, wineries, and patrons, the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival manages to stay true to its roots as a special, intimate event.
In 2017, to acknowledge the increasing role of the culinary events and chefs, the Nantucket Wine Festival officially changed it’s name to the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival.
The Nantucket Wine & Food Festival isn’t the only thing that has gone through some changes since its inaugural year. Nantucket has changed, too. The population has grown, both permanent residents and vacationers, and with that growth came construction. There simply isn’t as much usable space as there once was, so finding the right venue seems to be a challenge that comes with each new year of the event.
For the past few years, The White Elephant has been the primary home to the island’s festival goers and is still HQ for registration and where NWFF holds its Grand Tastings, most Signature Events, and many of the seminars. Again for 2018, a few NWFF events will be held in the Nantucket Yacht Club. Some events will also be at The Nantucket Hotel & Resort. And, of course, the Great Wines in Grand Houses locations are secret to all but those few who are participating in these very exclusive events with ticket prices ranging up to $1,295 a person.
New this year, Jetties Beach is being added as an additional venue for the “Culinary Village” — a refreshing change of scenery with sand underfoot and waves within view. This new location is open Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, May 18, 19, and 20, and the scene of the very popular Bluegrass Brunch, Rosé Sunset Clambake, Junior Top Chef competition, and the NanTEXAS Get Your Grill On events. More than a dozen culinary demonstrations and booksignings by star chefs including Jeremy Sewall, Lydia Shire, and Barbara Lynch will be held in the Culinary Village at Jetties. In addition, more than 60 exhibitors will offer samples and wares.
As if the finest wines and culinary experiences on Earth weren’t enough, Wine Fest brings so much more to the table. Experience the finest from American and International spirits and cocktails, mixers, craft beer and soda, and more. There’s even live music and handmade jewelry. Stimulate all the senses at the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival.
The mission of Wine Fest, however, is more than just providing a good time. In recognizing how essential a healthy community is for everyone, for over two decades proceeds from the Wine Festival have helped support numerous Nantucket non-profits and organizations. Their current mission is to focus on Nantucket’s next generation. The Nantucket Wine Festival Charitable Foundation, the charitable arm of the festival, has a focus this year on the Culinary Arts Mentoring Program. It provides educational speakers, field trips, visiting chefs, and paid employment opportunities to the youth of Nantucket. Its culmination, The Annual Nantucket Wine Festival Junior Top Chef Competition, directly supports the Nantucket High School Culinary Arts Scholarship Fund.
With more than 60 events packed in to just 5 days in May, volunteers are a crucial component to the success of the Wine Fest. To learn more about the fun and exciting volunteer opportunities available, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets to the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival are selling out fast. To see what events are still available visit nantucketwinefestival.com, and raise your glass! Cheers to 22 years!