Founded in 2006 as a single day of tastings in Marion Square, Charleston Wine + Food has expanded into a five-day festival of culinary experiences stretching from Charleston to Johns Island to Sullivan’s Island. And in a town that takes it’s wining-and-dining seriously, Charleston Wine + Food is The Holy City’s pinky up Mardi Gras.
Gillian Zettler has been at the helm as executive director since 2014 and credits the festival’s success to local support.
“The community has invested in it, and it is the kind of event that lots of different types of businesses and people can benefit from. There really is something for everyone,” she said.
The 13th helping of Charleston Wine + Food runs from Feb. 28 to March 4, and this year the festival is set to deliver on its promise to keep locals and visitors alike pleasantly surprised, well fed and well wined.
“We made a conscious decision a few years ago that a majority of the programming would change year over year,” said Zettler. “Either events will be brand new, or events that you’re familiar with will be re-concepted and feel new, even if they are an old favorite.”
Consider Bowens Fish Camp, a Thursday late afternoon event that draws inspiration from that homely, deep-fried Bowens menu locals love and re-imagines the opportunities to craft new dishes from fresh catches. The outdoor event will feature 10+ chef stations of river-dwelling and coastal fishy fare and, of course, the iconic marsh views of Bowens Island.
Even if you are a well-tenured foodie who thinks you have seen all that Charleston has to offer, you may want to take a second look. Charleston Wine + Food takes over familiar local venues and offers one-of-a-kind programming.
“There’s tons of options, but you can have the experience of going back to an old favorite that you haven’t been to in awhile or trying a new place that you’ve always wanted to,” said Zettler. “Charleston is an event city, and people are used to going out to events so we want to try and introduce even the local people to places that they may not have explored.”
Take, for example, Saturday afternoon’s #BrunchSquad event, where over 200 guests will collaborate with chefs to create a potluck-style brunch. Utilizing both the indoor space (and the vendors within) as well as the plaza area outside, the event is hosted by Ellen Bennett of Hedley & Bennett, who will be providing her iconic aprons to each guest as a festival takeaway.
Expanding on the foodie experience, the festival is taking on new programming with excursion-style events.
Zettler described excursions as “hands-on, on-the-ground field trips” that call for adventure in your own backyard. Festival-goers will be shuttled to these events from Marion Square at the corner of King and Calhoun.
Also embedded in this year’s festival is a health and wellness component, like Sunday morning’s Namaste Bubbly. A favorite last year for local yogis, the event is hosted by Sarah Frick of Charleston Power Yoga. After being led through a “flow,” the session will wrap with champagne, healthy bites and coffee.
While Charleston Wine + Food strives to highlight The Lowcountry’s local talent, there will also be an all-star roster of out-of-town chefs joining in as well. The elevated nature of the festival along with visiting chefs combine to create one of the hallmarks of the festival: culinary collaboration.
“It’s a great opportunity to see people collaborate,” said Zettler. “That’s one of the foundations of the whole festival: beverage and chef collaborations and chef to chef collaborations.”
Among those flying in for the festival is wine critic Eric Asimov of The New York Times. Asimov will be leading two seminars – one on sparkling wines (not just champagne) with six full tastings, as well as New, Not Nouveau. The latter event will highlight bright, earthy Beaujolais wines, which Asimov has written passionately about in his regular Times column – each served with complimentary food pairings.
Then there is The Culinary Village in Marion Square, where Charleston Wine + Food first grew its roots. Here, nibblers and sippers can shop in the Artisan Market, visit The Cork Yard, hop into a rosé experience, have a craft brew and enjoy local music curated by Charles Carmody of the Charleston Music Hall, as well as high-energy chef demonstrations.
The Sunday local’s ticket for The Culinary Village has become a must for Charlestonians with complimentary wine glass in hand. The all-day, all-inclusive ticket may be the ideal Sunday for those looking for a good time and great deal.
With Charleston Wine + Food, you can expect much more than the typical, so brace yourself for a new experience.
“You would think that after 13 years, that all topics would be exhausted,” said Zettler, “but I think we’re still just at the tip of the iceberg.”
Chip off a piece of that iceberg, put it in your drink and enjoy this year’s Charleston Wine + Food Festival.
For more information and tickets, visit https://charlestonwineandfood.com/.
By Hunter Gardner