This time of year Hilton Head Island finds itself on the cusp of spring. When the azalea buds are ready to burst forth with a colorpunch of pink and purple and the warm, sunny afternoons simply demand a leisurely walk along the beach, locals and visitors in-the-know ready themselves for festival season in the Lowcountry. My all time favorite local festival combines two of my passions – great local food and terrific wine from all over the world – the Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival. Starting out 26 years ago as a modest, low-key affair simply called Winefest, the festival has grown into a multi-day event including Great Chefs of the South dinners, a Grand Wine Tasting & Auction and a public wine tasting event, Winefest, held at the grounds of historic Honey Horn . In fact, Winefest is considered one of the largest outdoor wine tastings on the East Coast. But to me is so much more – an event that truly showcases the best characteristics of Hilton Head Island – southern hospitality, delicious food prepared with care by local restaurateurs and a relaxed, fun atmosphere perfect for groups of friends, couples and even multi-generational families. Winefest has provided me with many fond memories and a whole collection of wine glasses over the years! And I do have some insider information on the festival that I am happy to share.
The 2011 Festival includes Great Chefs dinners, a Grand Tasting and Wine Auction as well as the public wine tasting at Honey Horn. The Hilton Head Island Bluffton Chamber of Commerce will be co-hosting a tent at Winefest along with Bon Appetit Magazine. Stop by their tent to get the March issue of the magazine, a recipe card or two as well as try out (or download) the new Hilton Head Island App. Please drop by and say hello. And, for all the foodies out there, there will be a certified “rock star” chef in attendance. Mike Lata, voted James Beard Award winner 2009 for Best Chef in the Southeast, will be in the house! He will be preparing two cooking demonstrations on Saturday, March 12 during the Winefest event. Chef Lata is known for his commitment to sustainability at his restaurant, FIG, where his menus combine traditional European techniques with locally grown, seasonal ingredients making for wonderfully inspired menus that simply sing with Lowcountry flavors. Additionally, several Great Chef Dinners are planned for the week of March 8-11 at various locations including Antonio’s, Topside Restaurant at the Quarterdeck, the Harbour Town Grill as well as two restaurants I have featured here in my blog, CQ’s and The Old Fort Pub. These dinners, as well as the Grand Tasting will surely sell out quickly so get your ducks in a row (i.e. contact each restaurant or buy advance tickets to the Grand Tasting) so you won’t miss out.
And now a few hints for the festival… If you’re a rookie: buy your ticket(s)early, you’ll want to take notes on your favorites so bring a pen, ask the wine reps questions (they love this and you can learn a few things to boot!) and remember to pace yourself. There are over 400 wines represented so it’s okay to be choosey (and to try a taste of something new and different as well). And to the seasoned Wine & Food “fester” gleefully receiving their 26th glass – you are one lucky soul! PS. I will have more insider information on this year’s festival soon – so be sure and check back!