Long gone are the days of Two-Buck Chuck that Stephanie Browne and her close group of girlfriends sipped throughout college. Cheap chardonnay and chablis have been replaced with a palette of curiosity, one that led them to form a wine club that eventually turned into Divas Uncorked. This weekend, the group of friends and their guests will host the fourth annual Wine and Food Festival, where Islanders and visitors will dine on the best food the Island has to offer accompanied by the best New England wine.
The weekendlong event will feature Vineyard and New England chefs, wine experts, vendors and hungry patrons. The event kicked off last night at the East Chop Beach Club with special guest and Vineyarder Steve Raichlen, a pig roast, sparkling wine and champagne, and the party continues tonight at the Vineyard Harvest dinner at the Sailing Camp Park in Oak Bluffs.
But before there was a VIP list for the event, there were 12 friends who wanted to learn more about wine. “About 10 years ago I was fascinated by the fact that there were all these different types of wines,” Mrs. Browne, founder of Divas Uncorked, said earlier this week at her dining room table. “Instead of a book club we wanted to start a wine club. Like a book club, there had to be some education, you had to learn about the wine you were drinking.”
And so once a month, Mrs. Browne and her friends began meeting to learn about new types of wine. “We went the first time from cheese and crackers and chicken wings to actually having full-fledged dinners,” she said. “Even after 10 years we’re still doing it. We still have our monthly dinners and continue to learn about wine because you can never learn it all. It’s a history that’s way bigger than all of us.”
Divas Uncorked eventually evolved out of this group of friends, with nonmembers wanting to learn more and the Divas providing monthly wine dinners for a great meal and great teaching. After learning that African American women were not represented in the marketing of wine, Mrs. Browne and her friends found their niche.
“Because I have a group of friends who are movers and shakers, they can’t stand for something to be closed off,” Mrs. Browne said. “We wanted to expose it a little bit in our own backyards.” And their backyards of Boston have moved to the Vineyard.
The signature event is Saturday at Nectar’s at the Martha’s Vineyard Regional Airport, where the Grand Tasting will be held. “There will be 30 wine and food vendors you can walk around and get a taste of the world,” Mrs. Browne said, explaining what she called a mini-taste of the Vineyard. “We have wine from Portugal, Spain, the U.S., France, just about everywhere.”
During the Grand Tasting, there will be three Wine Wisdom seminars that will feature a wine lecture, the launch of a new glassware, and a cooking demonstration matched with wines by Top Chef season five finalist Ariane Duarte. Mrs. Duarte made it more than halfway through the season.
Dale Roberts will be promoting his new wine glass that has a classic shape with a new twist.
“The glass and the rim itself have been modified to excite your palette,” Mrs. Browne said. “Because it’s been modified when you drink, it opens up the palette a little bit and you taste the wine differently.” There will be a blind tasting asking audience members to compare the difference between Mr. Roberts’ glasses and regular glassware.
Sunday afternoon wine enthusiasts will attend a brunch at the Boathouse in Edgartown for a schooling on American wines from Nadine Brown, the sommelier at Charlie Palmer’s Steakhouse in Washington, D.C. “What’s so cool about Charlie Palmer’s is that they only do U.S. wines, so Nadine has found wine from places that you wouldn’t even know had wine,” Mrs. Browne said. She remembered dining at the restaurant once when Ms. Browne gave her a wine from Arkansas and Alaska. “Wine is not only made in California or France; all 50 states make a wine. There are some really nice ones,” she added.
At the Passion for Pinot dinner at the Harbor View Hotel in Edgartown on Saturday night, as with many other of the events this weekend, all food will be as local as possible. When the first Wine and Food festival took place four years ago, Island Grown Initiative (IGI) was just getting its footing. Mrs. Browne was introduced to executive director Ali Berlow and thought that bringing the two organizations together would work to each other’s benefit.
“What a wonderful combination, I thought: us around wine and you around food and the healthiness of it,” Mrs. Browne said. “We wanted to give back to the community and try to make sure the farmers on the Island stay economically healthy.”
As a result, IGI is the sole beneficiary this year of the funds raised at the Grand Tasting event. “Our philosophies are the same,” Mrs. Browne said. “I’d love for our relationship to continue to grow because it’s a perfect fit for the Island.”
“It’s pretty amazing that they’re putting on these events,” IGI board president Sarah McKay said earlier this week. “We’re trying to incorporate an off-Island event with Island flavor to help make connections with local [vendors].
“It’s not always easy for people who don’t live in a community like this to understand what the challenges are,” she added. “It’s a really great opportunity for us to talk to people who might not know about the issues that farmers face on the Island.”
When asked if she would like to bring a vineyard back to the Vineyard, Mrs. Browne grew excited and fondly remembered her visits to the now closed Chicama Vineyards. “To be named Martha’s Vineyard and not have a vineyard, that’s just not working,” she said. “It would be nice if the Vineyard could support it in a way. It was historic.”
To cap the entire evening, a last minute event was added to the bill earlier this week: a clambake will be hosted with the Home Port restaurant in Menemsha. Tickets to the low-key event are still available, and Mrs. Browne was looking forward to enjoying the end of the weekend and watching the sunset, maybe with a bottle of her favorite white burgundy or zinfandel shared amongst friends.
For tickets to the Grand Tasting and a full listing of the Divas Uncorked Wine and Food festival visit divasuncorked.com. For tickets to the clambake in Menemsha contact firstname.lastname@example.org.