Denis Toner and the Nantucket Wine Festival

The buzz is good so far on the Nantucket Wine Festival.

The wine and food at the Gala last night was larger than ever, spilling over into the Brant Point Grill bar for the first time. The crowd was a good mix of local vs. visitors, maybe two-thirds local – one benefit to holding the Gala on Thursday night instead of the weekend, a fact not lost on the NWF organizers who strive first to please the hometown audience.

Founder Denis Toner told me that “we sold out most of our events at a record clip; that’s good news for us and good news for the island.”

Winemakers said that the guests in general had well educated palates, and were there to look for new wines to taste and buy – a winemaker’s dream.

Between last night’s Gala and the weekend Grand Tastings, Denis says that the festival has “way more food than we’ve ever had, including foie gras, oysters, multiple cheese vendors, artisan breads, specialty oils, custom smoked meats, and caviar. Denis reported that there were more chefs than ever at last night’s Gala, and they came from all over the country.

But Denis seems most proud of the twelve winemakers from Bordeaux, among the very best wines in Bordeaux.

The number of associated wine luncheons and dinners in island restaurants during the festival has greatly increased in the past several years, with more this year than ever before, most on Friday. Festival organizers have purposely not scheduled a major event on Friday night to leave it open for island restaurant owners to benefit financially from the influx of epicureans to the island.

Denis is happy to see the island restaurants becoming a major part of the attraction of the festival to bring such a large and appreciative audience to the island, at what would normally be a sleepy May week on Nantucket. Says Denis, “Nantucket is known as a gastronomic destination. We have many great restaurants, and I always say that it’s comparable to the east side of Manhattan in density and number. The Wine Festival jump-starts the economy, and we’re very please about that.”

Denis notes that this year, the festival presents the greatest array of winemakers to date, with more than 200 wineries, some of which make only 300 or 400 cases. “You’ll get to taste some of the little treasures of California that you never see here. For example, whoever heard of Shibumi Knoll Vineyards, when in fact, they have the highest rated chardonnay from Robert Parker, and they only make something like 100 cases a year.” Why, I asked. “They like it here.”

And that’s what I see and hear when I’m walking the aisles with Amanda. When we stop to chat with the people we don’t know, they either profess a love for this festival above all other wine and food festivals, or they’re here for the first time like the lovely couple we met last night from Key West who told us “it was their first Nantucket Wine Festival, but it will not be their last.”

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