March 2015

2015 Hilton Head Island Wine & Food Festival

Author: Margaret Locke | Photographer: Rob Kaufman

This year marks the thirtieth anniversary of the Hilton Head Island Wine and Food Festival. The festival is a six-day celebration where attendees can explore the best food and drink from Hilton Head’s rich culinary scene. Guests come from all over the country to participate in this historical festival, the oldest of its kind in the country. Not only do they enjoy Hilton Head Island’s beautiful atmosphere, but guests also encounter spectacular celebrity chef showcases, intriguing wine education seminars and visual, as well as performing, artists’ exhibitions.

Historically, the island was considered to be a summer holiday spot and tourist destination. The festival was originally created in hopes of reviving the area’s food and beverage industry. In an attempt to restore their tourist population and give the residents a reason to celebrate, local wine connoisseurs and culinary talents came together to produce the very first wine and food festival. The inaugural event was a one-day, three-hour tasting, but has now extended into a six-day affair with an array of events ranging from movie screenings to food and wine pairing dinners, auctions and of course the famous Grand and Public tastings.

Separate tickets are available for each festival event, so it is easy to pick and choose which events to attend. The festival events cover a wide range of topics, sure to garner anyone’s interest. For the wine enthusiasts, there are multiple celebrity chef vintners’ dinners and education sessions on a variety of topics. Educational seminars include pairing food and drink, learning how and why the glass you drink out of makes a difference, and building your own Bordeaux. Dinner guests can enjoy resort chef and regional guest chef collaboration dishes, which, perfectly paired with wine, capture the entire essence of Lowcountry cuisine.


This year’s event will move from honey horn plantation to sea pines resort.

In addition to these events and tastings, the festival’s biggest draw is the International Wine Competition. In February, a panel of 25 master sommeliers, certified sommeliers, advanced sommeliers, and certified wine educators chose the winning wines. Out of more than 700 entries provided by over 110 different entrants, including 315 international entries, six wines were chosen, based on appearance, body, taste, aroma and finish. The winning wines include:

Best in Show Red — Alexander Valley Vineyards, CYRUS 2010
Best in Show White — Champagne J De Telmont, Grand Vintage 2005
Best in Show Value — Trinchero Family Estates, Jargon Pinot Noir 2012
Festival Pick Red — King Estate NxNW (North by NorthWest)
Cabernet Sauvignon 2012
Festival Pick White — Huia Sparkling Wine 2009
Festival Pick Value — Pollak Vineyards Chardonnay 2013

Among the talented panel of wine judges, the competition featured Brett Davis, Wayne Belding and Jacob Gragg. Brett Davis has devoted his life to learning about wine. It was during his tenure at Commander’s Palace that his obsession with wine began. In a wine bar after work, a seven-year-old bottle of 1978 Bâtard-Montrachet paired with a plate of French cheese transcended anything he had experienced before or knew was possible. This epiphany was the catalyst for his journey to becoming a master sommelier almost 25 years later. Author of Diving into Wine, Wayne Belding, became the thirteenth American to pass the Master Sommelier exam in 1990. He has also served as education chairman and chairman of the American Chapter of the Court of Master Sommeliers. Jacob Gragg, earned his advanced sommelier from the Court of Master Sommeliers at the age of 24, making him one of the youngest to have achieved this certification. In addition, he is a certified specialist of wine, and was named one of the Best New Sommeliers of 2012 by Wine & Spirits magazine.

The Grand Tasting, which occurs on Friday, March 13, is an exclusive tasting where the attendees taste the elite, award-winning wines from the International Wine Competition. The guests sip wine and enjoy light hors d’oeuvres as they soak in the spectacular Hilton Head Island view of the Calibogue Sound and signature candy-stripe lighthouse.

The Public Tasting, the beloved showcase event, occurs on Saturday, March 14, and is the most popular event of the festival. The event features more than 250 wines, and guests are invited to speak with both domestic and international vineyard representatives. During the event, guests are also encouraged to view various mixology demos and guest chefs in action. Finally, the guests can bid on the various award-winning wines at the silent auction that occurs during the Public Tasting.

The Hilton Head Island Wine and Food Festival is produced by Hilton Head Wine & Food Inc., and the proceeds from the wine auction at the Grand and Public Tastings go to the John and Valerie Curry Educational Scholarship Fund, which gives support to college students who are interested in pursuing degrees in hospitality and tourism. Currently, scholarships are being offered at the University of South Carolina Beaufort and the Technical College of the Lowcountry. 

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