February 2012

February 2012: Our Town - Swirl, Sip & Savor: 27th Annual Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival

Author: Debbie Szpanka | Photographer: Rob Kaufman

It’s time to raise your glass. The 27th Annual Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival is coming March 5-10—an event that rolls out the red and white carpet of grapes, celebrating its most tasteful bouquet of competition, culinary complements and wine complexities. Like a wine that has been nurtured by human hands, time, sun and soil, the Hilton Head Wine & Food Festival has been fermenting for nearly three decades, and the vintage is ready to be uncorked, tasted and savored.

“The festival has evolved from local wine junkies judging wines on what pleased their own individual tastes to having professional and accredited wine judges distinguish the quality of the components of each wine,” said Tami Bream, chairman of the Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival. “Having a sophisticated panel of judges enables us to cast a wide net to the wine industry and capture better wines from many corners of the region, nation and world.”

All judges are accredited through the Society of Wine Educators or by the Court of Master Sommeliers, Bream explained. “A sommelier is a fancy name for a wine steward. These judges and sommeliers are at the top echelon of the industry and have extremely discriminating talents. They can taste a wine and tell you what region it is from and in what type of soil its grapes were grown,” she said. “Their palates are like playing the old ‘Name that Tune,’ game show when someone can hear two notes and tell you what song it is.

“The festival has refined its standards throughout the last 27 years. The quality of judges is a testament to the festival reaching a high level of credibility while maintaining the fun factor in our event,” Bream continued.

While the event attracts wines from all over the world, it also attracts people from throughout the nation and introduces them to the Lowcountry’s culinary stars. “More than three-quarters of the festival’s attendees are people from over the bridge and beyond,” Bream said. “This event is the island’s stage to showcase our chefs, culinary specialties and our cultivated palates. While Hilton Head is known for tennis, golf and our beautiful beaches, the festival adds a whole other dimension to why people are making the Lowcountry a vacation destination.”

As an example, Bream cited a group of guys who have been coming to the festival from Atlanta each year since 2000. They golf during the day and attend a wine dinner each night of the week. “We are glad tourists are making Hilton Head Island a culinary destination as a value-added to their vacation or as the main entrée of their visit,” Bream said.

2012 Festival Events
Like crushing many grapes to make wine, the 2012 festival vintage has a jammed-packed schedule with wine dinners, competitions, auctions and tastings:

Great Chefs of the South Wine Dinners: Monday, March 5-Saturday, March 10
Let the pairings begin as festival organizers are waving the flag of red, white and food this year. A series of wine dinners will be held at island restaurants for six days of the festival. Dubbed, “The Great Chefs of the South Wine Dinners,” the dinners showcase the island’s culinary portfolio and distinguished chefs. Each dinner will feature a local chef as he or she explains complementary wine pairings with his or her featured dishes. Details and tickets are available at hiltonheadwineandfood.com.

Grand Tasting & Silent Wine Auction: Friday, March 9
This tasting and auction is an opportunity for all cork dorks to raise their glasses, swish their wine around and see if it dances on their tongues. The Grand Tasting and Silent Wine Auction event features the festival’s most expensive and exclusive wines.

“The wines featured at the Grand Tasting will usually be the top-of-line wines for each vineyard or distributor,” Bream said. “Each bottle featured is worth $75 or more, and they are usually the premium or reserve wines.”

Held at the Harbour Town Conference Center in Sea Pines Resort Friday, March 9, from 5:30-7:30 p.m., the Grand Tasting & Silent Wine Auction can only accommodate 250 people. The event includes gourmet butler-passed hors d’oeuvres and tapas to accompany the premier wine selections. The silent auction features wines grouped together in “lots,” usually by the family or varietal of grape. With a top bid, you can leave educated and equipped for your next celebration. Tickets are $65 a person.

“This is usually a sold-out event,” said Jeff Kruse, director of food and beverage operations for Sea Pines. “This event gives those with a cultivated palate a chance to discover new wines and acquire them for their private wine collection or cellars.”

Wine & Food Festival & Silent Wine Auction: Saturday, March 10
On Saturday, everyone is a judge, and the only criterion is if you like the wine or not. More than 700 wines will be scattered around Honey Horn Plantation on Hilton Head Island for an expected 4,000 people to taste. The nearly 20 professional and accredited wine judges did all the heavy lifting of analyzing the wine components in late January. Now, the winners are proudly displaying their silver, gold, double gold and best-of-show ribbons so that you appropriately “ooh” and “ah” over them.

Saturday’s event starts at high noon and lasts until 3 p.m. The first 3,000 attendees will receive an official 2012 festival wine glass.

“Saturday’s event is a celebration and culmination of a week’s worth of honoring the talent and taste of wine makers, distributors and the product itself,” Bream said. “Wine is a symbol of joy to many, and this festival gives us joy to present fine wine, fine food and the fine people associated with creating great culinary experiences.”

Saturday’s event includes wine tasting, cooking demonstrations, food stations, live music and a silent wine auction. Proceeds from the auction will benefit educational opportunities for students in the hospitality programs of study at the University of South Carolina Beaufort, the Technical College of the Lowcountry and raise money for the John T. and Valerie Curry Scholarship Fund.

Chefs, cookbooks & comedic competitions
Peppered between the gourmet food and wine on Saturday will also be entertainment for your comedic and culinary palates. Watch for your favorite server or bartender competing among his or her counterparts for cash prizes and bragging rights. Local bartenders will make their favorite concoctions during the Bartenders’ Challenge, using Grey Goose vodka. The comedic part is watching the judges, usually pillars of the community, attempt to stay sober as they select the winning recipe.

The waiters’ race is also entertaining as servers most skilled in balance, speed and agility take to the obstacle course with a tray of glasses. Whoever gets to the finish line first, with the least spilled and most balance, wins.

The festival’s culinary court will give you a chance to cleanse your palate and feed your soul. This year’s event features a Health & Wellness stage and the Celebrity Lowcountry Authors tent. Local chefs will host cooking demonstrations and local authors will also be available for book signings.


Details and tickets for each event of the weeklong festival are available at hiltonheadwineandfood.com. Tickets are $45 a person; discounted tickets ($39.99) are available at Walgreens Drug Stores, nationwide, from February 5 to March 9.

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