WHILE sandy shores are hardly an ideal terroir, Tybee Island will nonetheless yield some of the finest wines in the world as the Tybee Island Wine Festival returns April 22-26.
Featuring generous pours from dozens of wineries near and far, the seventh annual Wine Festival continues to orbit around Saturday’s Grand Tasting on the green lawn in front of the Lighthouse, where live music and hors d’oeuvres compliment an afternoon of sipping in the sun.
More events will keep the palate soaring all week long, from an intimate repast at Tybee Island Social Club to a beachside oyster roast at Marlin Monroe’s to a Champagne Sunday brunch at the Crab Shack (bare feet optional.) Attendees can choose events à la carte or go all in for five days of delectable delight.
All proceeds benefit the historic Tybee Post Theater, built in the 1930s as a movie house for the soldiers at Fort Screven. Friends of the TBT have been working to restore the charming brick theater for almost a decade, and thanks to the popularity of the Wine Festival, the Tybee Polar Plunge and various other events throughout the years, 2015 will be the year the curtain rises again.
“The community support for all our special events and other fundraising efforts continues to be phenomenal,” says TPT Executive Director Melissa Turner.
“It will pay off in a big way for all those longtime supporters when we finally reopen the Post Theater for movies and live performances this summer.”
But it’s not just local epicureans who are raising their glasses for Tybee’s newly refurbished cultural center. Word has spread about the festival’s casual elegance is drawing oenophiles from around the state and the country.
“We have people signed up from New York, Wyoming ... some of them come year after year, others hear about it online and from friends,” says Turner.
The star power of this year’s kick-off event on Wednesday, April 22 surely adds to the allure. For one incredible meal, “A Celebration of Earth and Vine” gathers the Savannah chefs everyone is talking about—including Mashama Bailey of the Grey (currently up for a James Beard Award), the Florence’s Kyle Jacovino, native son Michael Gottlieb (set to revive his family’s namesake restaurant on Drayton in the coming months) and Kurtis Schumm, the creative brain behind the Tybee Island Social Club and Fish Camp menus.
Schumm helped organize this culinary dream team, explaining that while each chef is bringing her/his own concept to the table, the eclectic four courses will add up to “the perfect meal.”
He also notes that the celebration coincides with the 45th anniversary of Earth Day, another major influence on the menu.
“These are all chefs who are incredibly conscious of where their ingredients are sourced from,” says Schumm. “They’re committed to the idea that we should not be taking advantage of the planet.”
The same ideology is at work in the selection of wines that will accompany each course. Mining the organic portfolio of South of France vintner and Wine, Moon and Stars author Gérard Betrand, the pairings reflect a sensibility that values environmental ethics as much as superior flavor profiles.
“We chose Gérard Betrand wines for the Earth and Vine dinner because of his interest in sustainability and biodynamics,” says Diane Rousakis, festival coordinator and the local wine and spirits representative for United Distributors.
“It’s Earth Day, and it makes sense that he would be involved.”
Gérard Betrand rep Brian Liska will introduce each wine as the meal proceeds, beginning with Jacovino’s country paté and pickled vegetables paired with a GB Gris Blanc Rosé.
Gottlieb’s Wild Georgia shrimp dumplings with crispy pork and crab meat caramel find a mate in a crisp Picpoul de Pinet, and Bailey’s quail with hominy and roasted grapes will melt in the mouth with a dark plum Tautavel.
Schumm’s own hangar steak recipe rounds out the meat course next to the robust Chateau L’Hospitalet Rouge, and lest anyone forget about dessert, save room to sip Gérard Betrand’s special Banyuls Vin Doux Naturel with bites of dark fudge cake and caramelized white chocolate courtesy of Sarah Fernandez of Virginia College’s Culinard program.
Such fine marriages of food and wine deserve an extraordinary ambience, and the glorious Tybee Island Wedding Chapel certainly befits the occasion. Emcee Jesse Blanco assured last week that ticket sales for “A Celebration of Earth and Vine” have been brisk, though they are a few more left at press time.
Schumm, who along with his wife and co-conspirator Sarah, are avid supporters of Tybee’s food and art scene and have watched the wine festival grow from its nascency. While its raison d’etre may be to raise funds for the Tybee Post Theater, this foodie convention-at-the-beach has now earned a stellar reputation of its own.
“This year is going to be the best year yet,” says Schumm, alluding to more unannounced guest chefs and rare uncorked vintages.
“There are going to be a lot of surprises.”
Tybee Island Wine Festival
When: April 22-26
Where: Various locations around Tybee Island
Tickets: April 22 Chef Dinner $85/person; check listings for other events