Take some of the world’s finest wines, add the island’s best cuisine and throw in a couple of celebrities: that’s the winning combination you’ll find at the Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival. The festival, now in its 32nd year, is set for March 8-12 and draws wine and food lovers from all over the country. Festival president Tom Hines offers a look at what guests can expect at this year’s event.
Question: The Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival is back. What can patrons look forward to this year?
Answer: Great friends, food and wine underneath the live oaks in Harbour Town. This event will be the spring kickoff to Hilton Head Island 2017. Hilton Head Island Strong has been a rally cry for the locals, and returning guests will get a chance to see that Hilton Head Island is open for business.
Q: The signature event of the celebration is the Public Tasting on Saturday, March 11. It is one of the largest outdoor wine tastings on the East Coast. How has it — and the festival — grown over the past three decades?
A: I would say it has evolved into a more complete wine and food event. Chef demos featuring local chefs, knowledge sessions leading up to Saturday’s tasting, the Grand Tasting on Friday at the Harbour Town Clubhouse. The festival has grown up. It is several days of wine and food events.
Q: It is certainly one of Hilton Head Island’s most popular annual events. Are you at capacity, or can it get bigger?
A: Speaking for myself, I like the more intimate setting. We have room to grow, but I am cautious to make sure that we have a quality event versus a larger event.
Q: How is the new location, Sea Pines Resort, working out?
A: Sea Pines is a great partner. They offer us a world-class setting where we can hold our event. The lighthouse is an amazing icon.
Q: How many people does it take to put this together?
A: We have one paid staffer. One. We work with other local groups to get the volunteers who make the festival possible. I guess the answer is we need hundreds of volunteers to make our event a success.
Q: What celebrity chefs do you have lined up for the showcases?
A: We are working with local chefs. Some of the most talented chefs in South Carolina are here on Hilton Head. We are partnering with Sea Pines and Treasury Wine Estates to do a special dinner Friday evening after the Grand Tasting. At the Heritage Room in the Harbour Town Clubhouse immediately after our tasting ends, Robert McMillen will host what we are calling a Highway 29 Dinner. Great wine from Napa Valley along Highway 29. The executive chef is Matt Roher. He has an amazing culinary background. He is a big proponent of the local food movement. He did that in Savannah prior to his arrival at Sea Pines and is continuing that concept for Sea Pines. Roher has been on the celebrity chef circuit for a number of years and we are lucky to have him here on Hilton Head.
Q: How about the live entertainment?
A: Dave Masteller and his band will be performing,
Q: What makes the Grand Tasting on Friday, March 10 at Harbour Town Clubhouse, so unique?
A: The wines at this event are truly exceptional. You rarely get a chance to taste the premier wines from Stags Leap Winery, Alexander Valley Vineyards and the Foley family of wines, or any number of truly outstanding wine companies. We will also have some small boutique wineries that are amazing. Best of Show wines will be available as well.
Q: Another event is the Sip and Stroll. How would you describe it?
A: Casual wine tasting with shopping. Walk along the marina and shops in Harbour Town.
Q: What’s a highlight of the silent auction?
A: The money that we raise for our scholarship programs. Over the past four years, we have donated about $42,000 to hospitality students at University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Technical College of the Lowcountry.
Q: Proceeds from the auction go to the John & Valerie Curry Scholarship Fund. Why was that fund chosen?
A: Dr. Bob Holman, Bonnie Lowrey, Ronnie Albritton and myself created the scholarship. John and Val Curry were amazing people. They were leaders in every sense of the word. The man was amazing in the hospitality industry. Did you know that he worked for Walt Disney? Not at Disney, but for Walt Disney himself.
Q: What is something about the festival most people don’t know?
A: It started 32 years ago with a small group in South Beach. A couple of local wine merchants, Brian Lutweiller and Charlie Grier, got a group together and the rest, as they say, is history.
WHAT: Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival Public Tasting
WHEN: 11 a.m.-3:30 p.m., Saturday, March 11
WHERE: Harbour Town Yacht Basin in Sea Pines on Hilton Head Island
DETAILS: Taste more than 250 wines from all over the world as you watch chefs in action at the Sysco Outdoor Gourmet Challenge, enjoy live entertainment and cheer for your favorite in the waiter’s race. A silent auction is also planned.
MORE INFORMATION: www.hiltonheadwineandfood.com, 843-686-4944