• by Sarah Teach •
Twenty-thirteen marks the first year that the effervescent Nantucket Wine Festival is under the ownership of seasonal island resident and Boston real estate magnate Mark Goldweitz. Since its 1997 inception, the festival has been owned and operated by its founder, Denis Toner, a long-time Nantucket wine personality and island resident.
Toner didn’t set out to sell the festival. He recalls, “Mark, who’s a really serious wine guy, approached my wife Susan and me and said, ‘For a long time, I’ve admired what you do. But I notice that you look more and more tired after each event.’” Toner snorts and declares, “And he could say that again! But [Susan and I] never did this with the intention of selling it; it was always a labor of love. When Mark made us a generous offer, it was the right thing to do.” Goldweitz recounts the experience as a somewhat organic one as well: “I fell into the acquisition of the festival a year and a half ago. I had invited Denis and Susan over. We talked about how they were spending half the year at their home in France, and I said, gee, I’d love to be involved and run [the festival].” For the past dozen years, Goldweitz has opened his exquisitely restored Levi Starbuck house to host signature Wine Festival events Great Wines in Grand Houses, a gesture not lost on Toner. Toner says, “Whenever something was going wrong, it always seemed like Mark was there to fix it.” Toner knew Goldweitz could be trusted with his baby.
When asked what the Nantucket Wine Festival has that no other festival has, Goldweitz breaks into a warm, wide grin and says, “It has Nantucket. And no place is like Nantucket.” Goldweitz first attended the Nantucket Wine Festival in 2000, just a few years after the inaugural year. He describes feeling overwhelmed by the combination of Nantucket with fine food and wine and was impressed with the work Toner was doing. “Back in the beginning,” says Goldweitz, “To convince the winemakers themselves to come out here—with their wine—[must have been difficult]. Normally, it’s not the winemaker actually pouring the wine at a festival. But here, the Gala is invitation-only, and it must be the winemakers themselves pouring the wine.” Goldweitz appreciates that Toner’s hard work and creativity has launched the Nantucket event into the upper echelon of food and wine festivals.
Toner attributes much of the festival’s past success to the cooperation of local restaurants and chefs. “The Wine Festival is a wonderful opportunity to benefit the businesses in the community, especially the hotels and restaurants. And,” he continues, “it keeps Nantucket on the map as a gastronomical destination. This year, I see more interesting features, like La Fete.” Toner jokes, “I don’t know why I didn’t think of that!” For Toner, moving from festival ownership is not a step out of the wine cellar but merely a shift in appellation. On the island, Toner is Curator for Grey Lady Wines, which provides a personal sommelier experience that allows wine lovers to continue to enjoy his immaculate taste. “Susan and I will be spending more time at our home in France,” says Toner. “I’ve been doing some charitable work at Hospices de Beaune, and I take people on wine and food tours all throughout Europe.” Toner skips not a beat before adding, “We have no intention of slowing down.”
We at Yesterday’s Island/Today’s Nantucket hope you will join us as we toast to the very first Nantucket Wine Festival of ‘97, and to Denis Toner’s 16-year labor of love. Here’s to the future of Nantucket’s most delectable festival, its enrichment of the island, and to its new leadership. And finally, here’s to the wine we will enjoy at the 2013 Nantucket Wine Festival… May we all someday exclaim: “Ah, 2013. Good year, good year!”