Held every second year, the Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend, coming up in April, 2012, is Charlotte’s largest and most prestigious wine event, one of the biggest in the Southeast, and a top fundraiser for charity. Since its beginning in 1989, the Weekend has donated more than $3.2 million to local charities.
Pairing winemakers with chefs at Charlotte’s finest restaurants, the event includes a night where every eatery hosts a wine dinner at the same time. Some two dozen restaurants typically participate, and the dinners nearly always sell out. Yes, Charlotte has that many wine enthusiasts.
Right now, seven weeks before the event, seats are going fast.
Tickets to all events are available through the Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend website.
Although the details vary every (two) years, some events return year after year, having attained somewhat legendary status as parties “not to miss.” Here’s a brief rundown on this year’s events:
Wednesday, April 18:
- Golf Tournament at the Ballantyne Golf Club. $150 per golfer includes awards luncheon.
- A palate-cleansing Tequila Dinner at Paco’s Tacos & Tequila. $75.
Thursday, April 19:
- Vintner Dinners at area restaurants. Many, including those at Aria, Barrington, CustomShop, Del Frisco’s, Dressler’s @ Metropolitan, E2: emeril’s eatery, Fig Tree, Ruth’s Chris, Zebra and Zink, all noted wine dinner destinations, are already sold out. However, seats are still available as of publication at some excellent restaurants including Bernardin’s (Falcor Winery), Bonterra (Arietta), Georges Brasserie (Eric Solomon), Halcyon (John Anthony Vineyards), King’s Kitchen (Chehalem ), Luce (David Arthur Vineyards), Morton’s (Silver Oak), Rooster’s (Saintsbury), and Terra (Alexander Valley Vineyards). Prices range from $100 to $195.
Friday, April 20:
- The Dream Team Tasting features a panel of high profile winemakers introducing their best wines. 3:30 pm. $195.
- Big Bottles & Blues, usually the weekend’s largest event, is a casual evening with all of the winery guests in attendence, plus live music, locally inspired cuisine, and live and silent auctions for rare large format bottles of wine, trips, jewelry, and wine dinners. Held in the Urban Garden at The Ritz Carlton. 7 pm. $95.
Saturday, April 21:
Saturday is Tastings Day at the Wine & Food Weekend. The main event is the noon-time Vintner Tasting held in Founders Hall at the Bank of America Corporate Center. Vintners are on hand to distribute samples and answer questions, as the crowd circulates, tasting wines and enjoying finger foods from Aria Restaurant. 11 am-1 pm. $40.
Other tastings are offered before and after the Founders Hall event at the Ritz Carlton. All are seated tasting events.
- At 10 am, wine author Kevin Zraly hosts a 1,000 Point Tasting of ten wines that have acheived the perfect score of 100. $375.
- At the 1 pm Bond Estate Tasting, Mary Maher, vineyard manager for Harlan and Bond Estates, introduces five different Bond wines from two great years. $125.
- Wine writer Kevin Zraly teaches Wine 101, featuring wines perfect for everyday enjoyment. 2 pm. $35.
- The Port Enthusiast Tasting, conducted by Jorge Andre Pais Vaz Nunes of Portugal, features several varieties of Graham’s Port, a top producer of the after-dinner favorite since 1820. $40.
Saturday concludes with the Weekend’s highest profile event, the Grand Gala and Live Auction, a black-tie optional event at the Ritz Carlton. The grand finale auction of the weekend gives local enthusiasts the opportunity to bid on rare vintages, vacations, and personal tasting events. $250.
Sunday, April 21:
- Brunch on The Green, the traditional after-party, features burgers, bloody marys, and brews on the lawn at The Green on Tryon Street. 11 am-1 pm. $50.
What you’ll taste: A wide variety of wines from California plus a few Oregon vintages and a smattering of European varietals.
What you won’t taste: No North Carolina wineries are participating in the 2012 event.
Who you’ll see: Winemakers and vintners planning to attend the weekend events include wine pioneer Bob Foley of Robert Foley Vineyards; Dick Ward of Saintsbury Winery; Phillipe Melka, and his wife Cherie, of Phillipe Melka Wines; Richard Lewis, professional race car driver and owner of Lewis Cellars; David Long of David Arthur Vineyards; and Fritz Hatton, owner of the Arietta Winery and the nation’s top wine auctioneer.
In addition, Kevin Zraly, author of the Windows on the World Wine Course, as well as the world’s largest selling wine book, Kevin Zraly’s Complete Wine Course, will conduct tastings and share his knowledge with festival goers.
Be on the lookout too for Charlotte’s resident wine celebrity, Eric Solomon, one of the world’s top wine importers, named Top US Importer by Food & Wine magazine in 2007 among many similar awards, and a semi-finalist this year for the James Beard Foundation award in the Outstanding Wine & Spirits Professional category. Solomon’s European Cellars, based here in Charlotte, imports wines from Spain, France, Portugal, and Switzerland, primarily from small vineyards. Solomon is a main proponent of terroir, preaching “place over process,” and is dedicated to rescuing rare varietals from extinction.
What you can bid on: The wine auction at the Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend is considered one of the best in the country, featuring many large bottles and rare vintages. This year’s rarest: a bottle of 1919 Romanée-Conti donated by the family of legendary Charlotte restaurateur J.W. “Slug” Claiborne. (His steakhouse, Slug’s, still wins popularity polls even after being closed for more than a decade.) Other auction items include a a trip for two to Grand Cayman Island and the Gminski-Wallace Dinner, traditionally the Weekend’s top auction item. The winning bids for this celebrity wine dinner hosted by NBA and Duke basketball star Mike Gminski, which in the past has featured special guests such as author John Grisham and jazz legend Branford Marsalis, raised a quarter-million dollars for charity in the past decade.
Where to stay: If you’re coming in from out of town, or just want to be in the heart of the action, the Ritz Carlton is the host hotel for this year’s event. Special room rates are available for festival goers, with the codes listed on the Wine & Food Weekend website.
Where the money goes: Proceeds of the 2012 Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend will benefit four local charities, all dedicated to making the lives of children better:
- Council for Children’s Rights
- Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina
- Charlotte Community Health Clinic
- Pat’s Place Child Advocacy Center