Updated Thursday May 14
It was about five years ago when I met John Clift, Martha’s Vineyard Wine Festival founder and director; at the time he was working as the “wine guy” at Atria in Edgartown. I had just arrived on the Island and knew not a soul, so naturally I dove headfirst into volunteering at food-oriented events — the California Wine Affair being the first of many.
I first met John there, and he was a force to be reckoned with — his knowledge of wine was superb, and he always had the ideal recommendation on food and wine pairing. Fast-forward to three years ago, when John and Angela Vezzose, who was also at Atria at the time, decided to come together in their knowledge; John with his love of wine and Angela with her love of hospitality and service. They joined forces to form what is today known as the Martha’s Vineyard Wine Fest, a celebration of wine that takes place the second weekend of May every year.
John and Angela collaborated with other known suspects in the industry: Nathan Briggs, bartender extraordinaire; Melissa Vincent, the hostess with the mostest; and myself, a line cook turned food blogger turned social media manager. Together, we’re in our third year of this grand festival, and we look forward to many more.
“It’s the perfect time of the year to showcase wines, spirits, and Martha’s Vineyard’s talented chefs and incredible artisans to old and new visitors to this magical Island,” said Angela Vezzose.
Last weekend was a gathering of chefs, winemakers, beer brewers, cheesemakers, and national brands — across private home dinners, in-restaurant events, and a Grand Tasting unlike any other — that proved once again that the Martha’s Vineyard Wine Fest has become a season-opener event for the Island.
The festival kicked off with the rosé reception at the Harbor View Hotel, where some of the best Provence rosé, Chateau D’Esclans Whispering Angel, was poured. The Harbor View’s executive chef Caleb Lara and his team showcased a variety of hot passed appetizers as well as a gorgeous selection of charcuterie and fresh cheeses.
Several private-home wine dinners took place across Edgartown and Chappaquiddick, starting with the Frog’s Leap Winery dinner hosted by Howard Imber of the winery and featuring cuisine by John Thurgood, sous-chef at Chilmark Tavern. The menu featured local ingredients, including Island watercress, veal from Grey Barn Farm, and even Chilmark mint.
On the porch of Chesca’s in Edgartown, the popular Real Men Drink Pink rosé tasting gave guests the opportunity to sample more than 10 rosé wines with commentary by Amy Cronin from Drync, the app that allows you to buy wine with just one snap of your phone camera.
For the beer lovers, the Great Beer Challenge was a fantastic event at Isola where attendees had a chance to taste nine beers from Harpoon Brewery, Brooklyn Brewery, and Peak Organic Brewing. After the tasting, Brooklyn Brewery was recognized as the winner for their Summer Ale.
Last Saturday’s lively Grand Tasting event, held on the grounds of the Kelley House, was the highlight of the weekend. Samples were poured from more than 500 wineries across the globe, and delectable bites from local vendors satisfied every palate. It was the perfect spring day for a tasting, and the community support shown by local Island businesses cannot be overlooked. Détente, the Atlantic, Grey Barn Farms, the Newes, Lure Fish, Athea Designs, Chilmark Coffee, and Not Your Sugar Mamas were just some of the vendors that contributed to the event’s success.
“I loved the smile on the vendors’ faces when they left the Grand Tasting tent, as well as the feeling of a full Island! The hospitality business this past weekend was booming, and the local small businesses did not go unnoticed by our attendees,” said Sarah Webber, a committee member for the festival.
The weekend concluded with a private closing reception that thanked everyone involved in the festival, where guests enjoyed Island Creek Oysters and Moet & Chandon Champagne; because that’s the only real way to celebrate on the Vineyard, don’t you agree?
It was an event enjoyed by all, and while we’re sad to have it behind us, we’re already looking forward and thinking about ways to make it even better in 2016. Cheers to a new season.