DAY DRINKING is a time-honored tradition on Tybee Island, and it’s always nice when it’s done with class.
Especially this week, when thousands of visitors exchange those ubiquitous red Solo cups for stemmed glasses for the 8th annual Tybee Wine Festival, taking place at various island locales April 20-24.
Featuring generous pours, dinner pairings from local chefs and a silent art auction, this five-day (and night!) gathering of oenophiles and gourmands once again brings together the finest of tastes in a relaxed beach setting—and yes, your flip-flops still go with everything.
But don’t be too nonchalant: Tickets are going fast to this popular fundraiser for the historic Tybee Post Theater. Clear your schedule for the entire shebang or purchase each event separately online (a five dollar charge will be added at the door—if there’s room.)
“Every single event sold out in 2015, which we were pleased about, to say the least!” laughs Melissa Turner, the theater’s Executive Director.
“We now have people from all over the country planning their spring vacations to Tybee around the dates of the wine festival.”
The corks start popping Wednesday, April 20 with the Celebration Earth and Vine celebrity chef dinner in the fairy-lit grand ballroom of the Tybee Island Wedding Chapel. Coordinated by visionary restauranteur and culinary creative Kurtis Schumm, this homage to the planet’s bounty stars a complex charcuterie plate from the Florence’s Kyle Jacovino, herbed tuna crudo by Keith Laturre of Sandfly BBQ, and, from Michael Perez of Charleston’s wildly popular Indaco and Colletta restaurants, saffron-infused creste de gallo pasta with rock shrimp and uni butter.
“All the chefs are classically Italian trained, so the menu naturally took an Italian direction,” says Schumm.
“It’s a fun process to walk through the wines and talk it out with the chefs, pairing and planning the order the dishes.”
Schumm says he always gives his guest chefs their pick of what course they want to contribute, though he might have to change up that strategy.
“This is the second year in a row I’m stuck with the entrée because it’s the most work! We’ll draw straws next year,” he laughs.
This year’s lucky festival diners get to experience Schumm’s main course of sea bass Pantelleria à la nage, inspired by the old culinary adage: “Fish, in order to taste good, must swim three times: In water, in butter and in wine.”
Schumm and his wife, Sarah, own three island restaurants, and the couple will stay busy the following night when their Tybee Island Social Club hosts the Art of Pairing, an educational viticulture session disguised as a sumptuous five-course meal. Guided by a professional sommelier, each dish will be enjoyed with an explanation of its accompanying wine and why it’s been matched.
The next night, however, there’s only one dish to keep track of when Marlin Monroe’s presents An Evening of Oysters and Wine on its beachside patio. Don’t let the simple menu fool you, though: These favorite gifts from the sea will be fixed six ways—grilled, on the half shell, marinated, confetti, Rockafannie and Tiger—and complemented by a dozen vintages from around the world. Paired with the sunset and live music, this favorite Friday event makes for quintessential Tybee time.
As always, Saturday is the Grand Tasting event on the lovely lawn in front of the historic Tybee Light Station, where those who crave variety can sip over 100 wines both international and domestic in the sunshine. Small bites from the island’s many restaurants invigorate the palate, and mellow music from the festival stage adds to the casual coastal atmosphere that keep folks coming back every year.
Beach-themed oil and acrylics from local artists will also be auctioned off during the festival, which raised $35,000 for the Tybee Post Theater last year. It all winds down Sunday with a champagne brunch, and the folks at the Crab Shack will make sure no one leaves hungry.
While the locations and schedule of festival remain the same, there’s been a big development since tipplers convened in 2015: The 1930 Army venue, once in dire disrepair, has been operational since last fall, hosting music, movies and other events. But there is still work to be done.
“The restoration process continues,” reminds Turner, explaining that the non-profit took out a $750K construction loan to get the doors open after 15 years of raising funds through the wine festival, the New Year’s Day Polar Plunge and private and corporate donations.
“We still need theatrical drapes, a proscenium above the stage and dressing rooms for the performers.”
In spite of these missing items, the theatre continues to boast a full schedule of upcoming events, including singer-songwriter Collin Gilmore with gypsy swing band Velvet Caravan and swamp rock legend Walter Parks.
The restored theater will be open throughout the wine festival so that those who have supported the event throughout the years can witness how those empty bottles and delicious meals have benefitted the cause.
“I definitely encourage people to stop by during the festival,” says Turner.
“Everyone should come by and see the fruits of their labor.”