GOODSPEED The Tradewind Magazine | Issue 04 | May 2018

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T H E H A N G A R | N A N T U C K E T W I N E F E S T I VA L

Now in its 22nd year, the Nantucket Wine Festival is one of the island’s signature events and has earned a global reputation due to the prestigious winemakers and devout aficionados and collectors who attend. For five days every May, the island enjoys pours of everything from Malbec to Burgundy of the utmost quality and hosts some of the industry’s most storied producers alongside local and visiting chefs. Given the caliber of wine and food stars, it’s little surprise that the tickets sell out quickly. We caught up with Wine Festival founder Denis Toner and current owner Nancy Bean, as well as local restaurateurs Jane Stoddard and Carlos Hidalgo of CRU Restaurant and our resident sommelier, local wine-shop owner Jenny Benzie of Épernay, to gain a deeper understanding plus a few navigational tips for this beloved annual festival. DENIS TONER was the sommelier of Nantucket’s Chanticleer Restaurant, overseeing its heralded 1,700-bottle wine cellar and, by his professional estimation, one of the world’s greatest wine lists. His tremendous experience in the industry, not to mention frequent attendance at wine conferences and festivals around the world, led him to consider his home island as an ideal host for its own wine festival. “I realized that with our many good restaurants, clientele who loved wine and gorgeous setting, it was a perfect place for a festival,” he says. IN 1996 DENIS TONER

In the spring of 1996 he invited some of his favorite wineries to pour their wines together in the Sconset Casino for just one day. “We made a few mistakes, as one does, but Nantucket being Nantucket allowed us to continue. Plus, we had immediate success with the event, especially the private dinners at people’s homes, which distinguished our festival from others all over the world, really.” Bridging the distance gap between Europe and Nantucket, 30 miles off the coast of Massachusetts and notoriously difficult to get to, could not have been without challenge. So how were winemakers first convinced to come? “Sure, you had to persuade people back in the beginning,” says Denis. “We

explained to them that Nantucket is a crossroads and the audience is a huge driver—people not only come from all over but also travel all over the world. We would tell them, ‘People can enjoy your wines in the context of a place of great American history and beauty, and thus people will associate your wine with great quality and a good time. So it’s a very positive link for your wine. And then the people of Nantucket will take that wine memory to the other places they go and expose the wines further nationally and internationally.’” Over the 20 years that Denis ran the festival there were plenty of highlights, but it was when winemakers like Marchesi Frescobaldi (“It’s important to have royalty”) and Tim Mondavi (“That was huge”) first came that it was momentous and helped push the event. Being a large aficionado of French wines himself—Denis now resides full-time in Burgundy—he was particularly elated when 14 producers from Bordeaux came. “That put us on the map!” he exclaims. To capitalize on these wins and maintain success, they had to be thoughtful and disciplined. “As time went on, we started elevating in a nice way, raising the bar every year,” he recalls. “We tried to be loyal to people who supported us, but we also increased the quality of our wines. Once it got popular, we had a lottery system. We tried to keep it under control since we didn’t want it to be the biggest festival, but rather the best.”

SPRING 2018 | PAGE 27