There is a kinetic movement to the Taste of the Vineyard, the annual feast and fund-raiser for the Martha’s Vineyard Preservation Trust. It’s the giddy energy of hundreds of people who skipped lunch, and maybe breakfast, playing gourmand for the night. Sampling. Sipping. Spying what’s ahead. Suddenly it’s forget the forks; it’s just finger food, faster and faster, with less and less room in the belly, until finally, barely two hours after the tent doors opened, there’s no right move but to dance.
“You just kind of blast through it, really,” said one seasoned Taster on Thursday evening, smiling, tossing his well-used but still-sturdy plastic tray aside (his souvenir wineglass he stashed in his jacket pocket). Then he slid across the dance floor to a spot right in front of the video cameras shooting a promotional video for Jerry Bennett’s Sultans of Swing big band, where he became just another lavender shirt among many, dancing in a navy blazer, khakis and flip-flops.
The Taste of the Vineyard Gourmet Stroll is the first event of a two-party weekend that raises money for the nonprofit trust that owns and manages what it calls endangered landmarks on the Island, including Alley’s General Store in West Tisbury, the Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, and the Dr. Daniel Fisher House and its grounds on Main street in Edgartown, where the stroll takes place.
The second event, held there on Saturday, was the patrons’ party and auction, with the theme this year Stepping Up and Stepping Out. Together the weekend parties netted about $170,000 after production costs — which were considerable this year, as they included bringing in a stage from New York for the patrons’ party surprise entertainment, the flying squad of the Riverdance company.
“It was the gift of a very generous Islander,” said trust executive director Chris Scott, who was well pleased. “Everyone was so generous and did such a wonderful job.”
The trust has earmarked some of the weekend profits for critical projects and maintenance: moving the old Chappy schoolhouse to the Marshall farm and restoring it; improving the farm stand at Alley’s, which Mr. Scott described as “much more beautiful, and therefore more expensive” than expected; and installing formal gardens at the Daniel Fisher House in Edgartown.
About 240 people attended the patrons’ party, where spirited bidding in the live and silent auctions raised about $160,000.
Guests were thrilled, he said, to see Riverdance “that close, in such a small venue” — and the dancers, who were treated to their own fresh Vineyard catch at Lattanzi’s after the show, performed another number for the lucky diners there that night. Flown in from across the country, the company (which included Irish, American, Canadian and Australian dancers) enjoyed waterfront accommodation at trust board members’ homes, outdoor activities and tours.
Patrons already were asking what Mr. Scott would do to surprise them next year. “The challenging thing is, the bar is pretty high now,” he said, chuckling about giving the dancers history lessons on the Vincent House between numbers.
The events provide about 15 per cent of the trust’s annual budget.
The stroll itself — this was the 24th — involved 80 vendors and the usual sellout of 750 tasters.
“We could sell many more tickets,” Mr. Scott said, but he’s firm about the maximum, conscious of not overloading the restaurants whose catering makes the event possible.
The crowd certainly felt like was at capacity after the tent flaps opened at 6:30 p.m.
The appearance of the people pushing up and down the aisles of food, balancing impossibly high piles of bite-sized nosh, was one of chaos.
But chaos theory is really about finding the underlying order in apparently random data. And so it’s worth analyzing: when the lawyer tells the journalists not to miss the lamb and bruschetta from the new Charlotte Inn chef, and the journalists high-tail it toward the back tent, is the trail of trays following them the result of a hot tip overheard?
When the improbably young men back there (rule of the night: the younger the man, the more likely to wear a tie) decide to abandon the chase and park themselves near the Martha’s Vineyard Shellfish Group oysters table, are they leading . . . or just learning the tricks from the seasoned tasters? (By then, just after 8 p.m., the oysters were almost gone.)
Any way you walked — in your stilettos, loafers, glittering flats, cowboy boots or the prevailing favorite, flip-flops — it seemed you were going against the flow of foodies.
And a certain competitive element is always only just-repressed — for at the Taste, the conservation organization chief and the bank president have to battle the same crowds for the Oyster Po Boy (Home Port) or pulled pork (on at least three menus). Star spotting — “that’s David McCullough, isn’t it?” and socializing can be cut rather rudely short when the Sharky’s server has just poured the last margarita.
It’s an evening locals look forward to and seasonal residents return for, and, given the scallop kabobs (from Seasons), the Lookout sushi chef Steve Loo slicing maki rolls, and so much other wonderful, exotic and fresh dishes, was it any wonder that pizza trays remained full for the late-comers?
All were equally puzzled as to why so many dishes, and drinks, were pink this year. “Is that sweet or savory?” one taster asked of the shot-glass sized treat Jan Buhrman was providing. “I don’t care, it looks great!”
Explaining the pink drink, rosÃ©, he had on offer nearby, Michael (Ollie) Oliveira of Our Market waxed lyrical about spring wine with some fresh lobster and French bread on a beach . . . so lyrical that one inquired, “What are we doing here?”
“I have no idea,” he laughed.
Like the rosÃ©, the Startinis (martinis from l’etoile), procsecco and boutique beers were best followed by an Ice Box (water from EcoMV), a Pellegrino or coffee (with a macaroon or little lemon meringue from Cakes by Liz, or a fitting Millionaire’s bar from Espresso Love) if your dancing was not to suffer.
And the dancing is as much a part of the Taste as the food. “The band was phenomenal,” said Mr. Scott, marvelling that seven — yes seven — lead singers was a record. “Jerry! Jerry!” one of those called to the Edgartown man at the drum kit, band leader Jerry Bennett, “give me a nice rap rhythm . . .”
The dancers, young and old, understood the beat if not the rhymes, and kept sliding, bouncing and some even properly dancing as the tune turned soon to Michael Jackson’s Wanna Be Starting Something, which fitted the mood under the disco ball just fine.
The kinetic energy had shifted to the dance floor, where it would stay until the very end.