As the Charleston Wine + Food Festival heads into its ninth year this weekend, you can look forward to a cornucopia of foodie fun in Charleston, South Carolina. The festival has expanded exponentially from the first event on Marion Square in 2005, adding cooking classes and demonstrations, wine and cocktail tastings, and cookbook signings in venues all around the city. Over the past few years, the individual events have even branched out to venues around the peninsula and beyond to neighboring North Charleston and Mt. Pleasant.Bites served at the festival VIP Party — Photo courtesy of Reese Moore Photography
The four-day festival will begin on Friday, March 6, with tastings and a luncheon, but the true opener, as in past years, is the Salute to Charleston Chefs Opening Night Party on Thursday. Held in the Main Event Tent on Marion Square, this dinner has long launched the festival. This year, representatives from twelve wineries will be pouring their best vintages, along with the Official Signature Cocktail for 2014, created by the winner of the Festival Mixologist Competition. More than 30 of Charleston’s most beloved chefs, including stars such as Sean Brock, Frank Lee, Michelle Weaver and Mike Lata, will feature dishes at stations arranged around the mammoth tent. It’s the perfect way to kick off the weekend.
Look for some new things as well. “For the 2014 Festival, as always, we’ve made some tweaks to our event schedule to keep things new and exciting,” says Ashley Zink, Director of Communications for the festival. “Our biggest changes for 2014 will be in our Culinary Village, which has a completely new layout this year. We’ve incorporated feedback from guest surveys over the past few years and implemented changes that we think will provide a better overall guest experience.
Highlights of the Festival
Some of this year’s Culinary Village highlights include the new Southern Season Open Air Artisan Market, which will serve as a shopping destination featuring Le Creuset cookware and cookbooks from Charleston Cooks as well as Festival retail and gourmet food products; the Bay Street Pop-Up Biergarten, which will feature a rotating list of beers from around the world; the Baker Motor Company Grand Tasting Tent, showcasing more than 40 chefs, restaurants and winemakers; and the Chateau D’Escalans Rosé Garden + Grilling Area.”
The Tasting Tent, however, is just the tip of the ice sculpture. There are wine and food pairings, themed luncheons, a Brew Hop, an excursion to nearby Wadmalaw Island to sample Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, and even a Waffle House Smackdown chef’s competition hosted by Andrew Knowlton, restaurant editor at Bon Appétit magazine–just to name a few.
Schedule of Events
On Friday night, Perfectly Paired Dinners match up guest chefs and vintners with Charleston’s own considerable culinary talent in the kitchens of local restaurants. Saturday brings more of the same, highlighted by a SpiritLine food and wine cruise led by veteran food writer John Mariani, and a Pluff Mud Oyster Roast by the river in Mt. Pleasant, another new event this year.
Later Saturday evening, revelers will head back to Marion Square for the Festival After Hours party, featuring an ode to disco and the Solid Gold Dancers, and–you guessed it!–more food and cocktails. And if you haven’t had enough, the festivities wrap up on Sunday with the Lowcountry Jazz Brunch in the morning and Rigs, Pigs and Swigs, with barbecue, brews and country music, in the afternoon.
The Charleston Wine + Food Festival has something to sate every foodie, wine buff and cocktail aficionado, so don’t miss the fun. There’s still time to get tickets online at charlestonwineandfood.com.
See also: USA TODAY's Experience Food and Wine