Martha’s Vineyard California Wine Affair at Atria Restaurant

This Friday and Saturday, the party's at Atria. — File photo by Courtesy John Clift

Though the Vineyard, ironically, does not currently have any operating vineyards, it is home to a growing population of wine connoisseurs. We have seen a surge in events centered around wine over the past few years — from small restaurant-hosted wine tastings to large-scale festivals devoted to the grape.

This weekend, Atria Restaurant in Edgartown hosts a new wine-tasting event where the public will have a chance, over the course of a trio of events, to meet some of the superstars of the California wine industry, enjoy a wine-pairing dinner, bid on wine-related auction items and, of course, sample a variety of wines — all from the West Coast.

The Martha’s Vineyard California Wine Affair kicks off with a silent auction on Friday from 4 to 6 pm featuring large bottles of wine and California wine tours, as well as local restaurant dinners and artwork. Proceeds from the auction, which is open to the public, will go to the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group. Immediately following is a wine-pairing dinner with six courses prepared by six local chefs. The Kings of California Cabernet Gala Dinner ($200) features a sampling of wines from some of the preeminent California wineries with dishes created by the chefs around a variety of Cabernet styles.

The Gala Tasting on Saturday evening includes more than 200 wines from more than 50 California vineyards, and passed hors d’oeuvres. Representatives from each of the wineries will be on hand, including the proprietors of Whetstone Wine Cellars, C. Donatiello Winery, and head winemaker for Halter Ranch Vineyard, Bill Sheffer. The tasting is $125.

The event is the brainchild of John Clift, who can certainly be considered a resident wine expert. Mr. Clift is the general manager and wine buyer for Edgartown’s Great Harbour Gourmet and Spirits, and also the wine director and sommelier at Atria Restaurant. He has traveled extensively and lived in a number of different places both within the U.S. and elsewhere. His impressive resume includes studying at the International Wine Academy of Roma, working for wineries and importers, and even a foray into winemaking. While in France, Mr. Clift created and produced a Beaujolais under his own label with the assistance of a professional. He named his wine after his grandmother, calling it Chateaux Marie and produced 50 cases.

Says Mr. Clift about his varied wine background: “I’ve seen it in all aspects. When you have an opportunity to see it from grape to bottle you have a different perspective of what’s in the glass in front of you.”

Throughout the years, Mr. Clift has forged lasting friendships with many leading members of the wine industry. He travels to California twice a year, visiting vineyards, and also makes frequent excursions to wine-producing areas in Europe. His relationships with vintners have allowed Mr. Clift to include in the upcoming event a few proprietors and winemakers. He explains that at many wine events, only winery representatives are on hand, and he is excited about introducing some of his industry friends and associates to a wine-appreciating public.

He also hopes to introduce the public to some of the local chefs while their restaurants are open for the season. Atria chef/owner Christian Thornton is enthusiastic about the opportunity to work with some of his fellow chefs for the cabernet dinner. “Usually in the summertime we can’t even look up to say hello,” Mr. Thornton says. “We’re all really excited about throwing down some food together.”

Mr. Thornton prides himself on the attention to his wine list. “Like our food menu, our wine menu changes frequently to represent what we think is best at that time,” he says. Atria hosts a wine-tasting dinner, with winemakers on hand, every other week in the summer and Mr. Thornton explains that they have attracted a loyal following and almost always sell out.

Mr. Thornton, who is from Napa Valley, is partial to California wines, but there are other reasons why his wine menu is heavy on West Coast wines. “We’re an American restaurant,” he explains. “And most of our dialogues and relationships are with California wineries.” Mr. Thornton is thrilled to have Mr. Clift on board at Atria. “A lot of people come to our restaurant because of the relationship with John.”

The wine dinner also focuses on local foods, an important part of the Atria philosophy. “We do our best to buy regional produce and seafood. Our menu changes according to what’s available,” says Mr. Thornton. He has also taken advantage of another local resource — installing a solar-powered system to provide all of the restaurant’s hot water. “Restaurants use an amazing amount of hot water,” he says. This weekend’s event will kick off Atria’s summer season. The restaurant will be open to the public as of May 20.

Gwyn McAllister is a frequent contributor to The Times.