• by Jenny Benzie, Advanced Sommelier + Certified Wine Educator, Proprietress of Épernay Wine & Spirits •
Welcome Wine-oh’s and Wine-ette’s to the greatest wine show on Earth! The Nantucket Wine Festival will soon be in full-effect, and if this isn’t the reason you came to Nantucket for this special mid-May weekend, it will be for the rest of your life.
What makes Nantucket Wine Festival amazing, memorable, and one of the most celebrated wine events in the entire wine world? It’s a combination of the location, the community, and unique opportunities offered by NWF.
First of all, you have to make an effort to get here. You don’t just randomly end up on-island because you took a wrong turn and thought it might be nice to wonder around our cobblestone streets. Come rain, fog, wind, or sun-filled skies, your journey to Nantucket is just the start of your adventure.
Island restaurateurs scramble to dust off winter residue, test new recipes from their off-season travels, plan wine events, and update staff in a pre-season dash to welcome the bevy of wine travelers who start to arrive May 13. NWF is an opportunity for our local chefs and owners to showcase their food and wine pairings, introduce this year’s signature dishes, and create the atmosphere of conviviality that is prevalent throughout the festive weekend.
Small inns and rental homes that bravely weathered the storms of winter get a fresh coat of paint, new landscaping, and a spring-cleaning like no other. Concierges scramble to fulfill their guests’ pre-arrival requests.
Local merchants are busy unpacking boxes, refreshing window displays, and preparing for the shoppers who visit between wine festival events.
Last but not least, local bottle shops have dusted off their wares, restocked their shelves to feature wines from their favorite wine luminaries, and popped some corks in order to toast the success that the Nantucket Wine Festival brings to small businesses here on the island.
Many wine connoisseurs who have attended the wine festival in years past have their NWF traditions: attend the Gala, go to one session of the Grand Tasting and perhaps one or two other events. As the festival has grown and expanded beyond these large group soirees, there are now more than 60 unique, well-devised, intimate events to choose (provided you got a ticket before they sold out).
The title of NWF’s Great Wines in Grand Houses series could not be more apropos. Each year, Nantucket homeowners vie to have their homes selected to be included in this part of the wine festival. The owners chosen get to showcase their island home to a special group of guests. Plus they host a famous restaurant chef who prepares a scrumptious meal in their kitchen, and a winemaker from one of the most prestigious wineries in the world who shares the fruits of his labor.
Worth the price of admission, you ask? Even with tickets costing up to $650 a person, indeed it is in order to be able to experience that special evening. While the basic concept of a stunning home, a star chef, and award-winning winemaker remains the same year-after-year, it is the trifecta effect found in every aspect of this combination that makes these events unlikely to be replicated and so sought after by both hosts and guests. You will never have the same menu, with the exact same wines. The synergistic energy of the chef, the winemaker, and the host makes each of these exclusive wine dinners unique.
Some of the highlights of attending a boutique experience such as this will definitely make you fall in love with Nantucket all over again. Each year, the ante of the events becomes even more prestigious, as each homeowner tries to out do the others. Did someone say “after-party with a rock band in the garage”? Is the dinner outside on the veranda, with sweeping views of the ocean from an island home so private that you will never see this scene again? What older vintage wines can be pulled from the cellar to share with these other wine aficionados? You may be asked to sit next to the winemaker (who insists your French is perfect and invites you for a private tour and tasting at his château) or next to the chef (who gives you a hands-on personal cooking lesson while preparing the meal and asks for your email so she can share the recipes with you), hosting or attending one of these events is an opportunity not to be missed.
As quickly as the weekend arrives, it soon flows away likes the tides. The last bottle of wine has been opened, poured into your glass, and consumed and your time well spent on Nantucket becomes a treasured memory.
Whether you are a first-time Wine Luminary or seasoned repeat wine consumer, you will always have your memory of the weekend to share. Never fear, my friend, the end of the Wine Festival and your departure from the Nantucket is just the beginning to the sequel that leaves everyone anticipating next year.