Karen Holmes Ward and eight of her friends are traveling to Martha’s Vineyard this week to drink some wine — quite a lot of it, in fact — and then talk about it for the next four days. Their goal: not to spill veritas over vino, but to educate the public about what’s in their glasses in a fun, relaxed manner. They’re members of the Boston-area-based wine group Divas Uncorked and hosts of the “non-traditional” Divas Uncorked Wine + Food Festival, which takes place August 12 through 15 at various locations across the Island.
The four-day festival will focus on “wine-savvy, not wine-snobby” events, including tastings, dinners, a lecture, and a book signing, and will feature wine experts and notable names in the culinary world. Steven Raichlan, host of PBS’s “Primal Grill,” will kick things off Thursday evening at the opening “Bubble Q,” an evening of barbecue and champagne for all-access pass holders held at the East Chop Beach Club.
Though wine functions tend to cater only to aficionados, Ms. Ward says there’s something for everyone at Divas Uncorked, be you an expert or a novice looking to test the waters at a few of the festival’s individual events.
“There’s a whole group of people who may want to learn about wine, but may be intimidated,” says Ms. Ward. “Anyone can come: black, white, gay, straight, rich, poor — all you have to have in common is a desire to learn about wine.”
That spirit of inclusion hints at the heart of Divas Uncorked, which formed 10 years ago as a group of 12 female friends who wanted to learn more about what they were drinking. Each month, one of the members would host a dinner with wine pairings and explain her selections to the crowd. From there, sensing that “many women feel they are overlooked at restaurants and wine stores,” the club evolved to host public dinners, conferences, and classes, bringing in notable female sommeliers and experts. “The whole idea was to be fun, fun, fun,” while encouraging women, who Ms. Ward says do the bulk of wine purchasing in the home, to educate themselves in the selection process.
Since then, the Divas, who now have nine active members and bill themselves “the sisters who sip,” have gone on to launch their own brand of wine, traveled to South Africa at the invitation of one of the country’s largest spirits companies and partnered with the Epicurian Institute of Italy to award a “Diva in Training” scholarship to a woman seeking to become the first African-American Master Sommelier. All professionally successful women in their own rights, they relied on their ingenuity and professional contacts to accomplish their goals. The Divas launched the festival, in part, she says, because they didn’t “want the men to feel left out.”
Now in its fourth year, the Divas have again grown their operation, adding an additional dinner to the festival lineup and hosting events in East Chop, Oak Bluffs town, and Edgartown. Ms. Ward says the group is aiming for a slow, controlled growth.
“We don’t want it to become quite as big as, say, the South Beach Wine & Food Festival,” she says. “We want it to remain intimate.” But event planners have told the group it takes three years to really establish a function. Having survived that period, she says, the festival has become an Island tradition.
In keeping with the Divas’ connections to Martha’s Vineyard, where one member owns a home and all vacation, this year’s festivities will raise awareness for the nonprofit Island Grown Initiative, which supports local food and farming. On Friday evening, 2009 Boston Rising Star chef Richard Garcia will present a Vineyard Harvest dinner at the Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs, promoting the best of local fare. Cronig’s Market owner Steve Bernier has teamed with his suppliers to donate supplies and help underwrite costs.
Tickets for the four-day festival can be purchased at divasuncorked.com, at the Cousen Rose Gallery in Oak Bluffs, and at Cronig’s in Vineyard Haven. An all-access pass to the festival costs $350; individual events are priced from $65 to $135; except a Thursday night culinary book signing and wine lecture, which are complimentary and open to the public. In all, it amounts to a relatively inexpensive way to fulfill the Diva’s goal of educating the public while “vacationing via the vine.”
Vanessa Czarnecki, a 2006 graduate of Boston University, is a freelance writer living in Chilmark. She most recently worked as managing editor of the Boston Phoenix.