Fourth annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival

Mother and daughter Gloria Asquith and Marcia Kaufman look content at the Grand Tasting. — Photo by Ralph Stewart

The fourth annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival was enormous in both its size and its scope, and it seemed as though there was not an Island resource the organizers did not tap into.

Local businesses offered in-store discounts, celebrity chef Dave Martin gave a demonstration to Martha’s Vineyard Regional High School (MVRHS) culinary students, ECO MV vowed to make the festival a zero-waste event, and local Sweetneck oysters were paired along with wines of the world during the Sweet Petites Tour of the World seminar.

The festival also benefited three local organizations: the YMCA, the Boys and Girls Club, and the Martha’s Vineyard Museum. Robin Jones, public relations and marketing director, stressed how important the community was to the festival’s organizers, which is why they encouraged residents to attend the Grand Tasting on Saturday by offering the greatly reduced ticket price of $50. The tasting was originally scheduled to be held at The Field Club in Katama, but after winds damaged the tent on Friday, was relocated to both the Edgartown Yacht Club and The Boathouse. Whether guests were Island residents or not, Ms. Jones explained the event was for “foodies and wine lovers.”

But the event was not limited to local businesses only. More than 50 wineries were represented from around the world — from Tasmania to Argentina, the United States to Italy and France, Australia and New Zealand to the Duero region in Spain. Valerie Rousselle-Riboud of Chateau Roubine attended to talk about her vineyard in Provence, as did wine négociant Joseph Carr of Napa Valley.

The festival spanned over 24 hours and included an opening ceremony, seminars, instructional cooking classes and chef demonstrations, the Grand Tasting, and various wine dinners. Restaurants from the Vineyard, Boston, and Connecticut were represented, as were acclaimed chefs including Dave Martin of the inaugural season of Top Chef, and Elizabeth Germain of Slow Food and a private chef on Martha’s Vineyard.

Some may argue that the Food and Wine Festival is not representative of Island businesses; however Ms. Jones explains, “We pulled in as many local restaurants as we could, but it’s hard because so many restaurants close after Labor Day.”

Lure at the Winnetu Ocean Resort, The Atlantic Fish and Chop House, and Espresso Love were three local restaurants involved in the Grand Tasting, while Saltwater held an evening wine dinner on Saturday night. Ms. Jones added that it is exciting to have restaurants and chefs not too familiar to Islanders, to broaden horizons. Chef Chris Combs of D Bar and Deuxave, both in Boston was certainly excited to participate: “This is my first time here, but hopefully not the last.”

The festival doubled in size this year. Some guests, chefs, and wine distributors traveled specifically to the Vineyard for this one weekend of wine and food. Ken Gilbert travelled to the Island specifically for Dan Carbon’s Port 101 Seminar, which he declared “fantastic.”

Now, what truly gave the two-day festival character were the personal touches that turned up in the most unusual places. Like a glass of wine that astounds you, because there is heart and personality that fills out the body in the glass.

The first sign of something unique was when the MVRHS’ culinary students participated in a demonstration led by Mr. Martin of Top Chef fame. These sophomores, juniors, and seniors showed an excitement for cooking that was thrilling to see. From pastries to southern soul food, the students were proud of their own specialties and happy to participate in making peanut butter cookies with Chef Martin.

Dan Carbon, who led the seminar Port 101, Everything you Always Wanted to Know about Port but Were Afraid to Ask, recently returned from living in Porto for seven years, where he worked for Symington Family Estates, a leading producer of Port. His personal stories, from treading wine with his own feet to the difficulties of picking grapes on a steep mountain face, as well as his own photographs, created a unique, very knowledgeable, and enjoyable seminar.

Dante de Magistris, of Dante Restaurant in Boston, served exquisite Swordfish Spiedini Agro e Dolche Sugo (Swordfish skewers). When asked what he thought would pair well with his food, he recommended the 2008 Feudi di San Gregorio Greco di Tufo of the vineyards in Tufo, Santa Paolina, and Torrione; he mentioned that grapes from his own family’s vineyard were most likely in the bottles of wine that were being served next to him, along with the food he created. The wine, by the way, was beautiful: Oily and rich, the perfect amount of body to complement the swordfish, excellent minerality, spicy, with lots of lemon flavors.

All the food I sampled was remarkably delicious. Especially Deuxave’s pan-roasted lamb with tabouli and minted cucumber raita. The wine ranged as broadly as the event itself. Some were wonderful, some were not. The 2004 Beringer Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon was everything I wanted in a California Cabernet: delicious red fruit, solid tannins, and long finish. The full-bodied 2008 Domaine Du Vieux Lazret Chateauneuf Du Pape Blanc tasted like sunlight in a glass, minerally, with notes of lemon rind.

These unlikely personal stories and experiences filled the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival with character and soul. The two days offered experiences for the foodiest of foodies and hundreds of wines for the most avid wine lover. But the best part of the whole event was the personal touches offered by each restaurateur, chef, wine distributor, and host. Everyone put their hearts into this event and it showed. With character and personality, the fourth annual Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival was remarkable, and remarkably successful.

Freelance writer and wine enthusiast Anna Ward, of Vineyard Haven, is a 2004 graduate of the Martha’s Vineyard Public Charter School and a 2008 graduate of Marymount Manhattan College.