Great Wine Events and Their Stewards – Nantucket Wine Festival 4 min read

The intense charm of Nantucket is something that is typically found on postcards. It’s next to impossible to describe and even harder to let go. It’s like nothing I have ever experienced, even with a background of extensive travel.


The Steamship Authority ferry chugged away happily to an enchanting island, wrapped in white sand dunes and sporting pristine light grey houses against the backdrop of cheerful cherry trees. For a split second, I thought I’ve arrived on a Hollywood movie set, until I saw the two large tents sitting next to the picturesque harbor. Then I knew that I had landed at the right place – Nantucket Wine Festival (NWF).



Sadly, I didn’t get to see much of the island, since my full attention was dedicated to NWF. If you visit, you may consider renting a bike, a Jeep or charter a boat to take a leisurely cruise around the island.


I stayed at two stellar hotels during my visit, the Cliffside Beach Club and the world-famous White Elephant. Both were fantastic for different reasons.


Fittingly, the Beach Club has a beachy, relaxed, casual vibe. Grab a book and a glass of wine and you will be in a state of bliss. It’s a tranquil, enchanting spot with a Zen-like feel.


The White Elephant was named one of the Top 100 Hotels in the world by Travel + Leisure. The service was exquisite. The staff was friendly and helpful. When I arrived in my room, I quickly “unpacked” by strewing my clothes across the bed in a frantic attempt to find a perfect outfit for the evening’s Welcome Reception. Later, when I returned to my room I found my clothes neatly folded and put away! As an added bonus, the room had the most comfortable, divine bed that I have ever encountered. In all honesty, it was tough to leave.



NWF captures the spirit of  Nantucket. It isn’t just an island; it’s more of a world onto itself.  One can’t help feeling that they have disappeared into a bubble of sorts, where food and wines are magic, people are giddy with excitement and the overall vibe is otherworldly.


It takes an exceptional vision and skill set to launch and maintain this level of high voltage hedonism. Behind the scenes, there is a special partnership of two very different,  but sage stewards. I had a chance to chat with them both, the former owner, Denis Toner, and the current one, Mark Goldweitz.


Denis, an island resident, and extraordinarily knowledgeable wine personality, founded the event in 1997 and almost immediately set and maintained an extraordinary high bar through the years. By the time Mark Goldweitz, a seasonal Nantucket resident, who has been attending the festival since 2000, approached Denis with a proposal to purchase the event, the two men had a lot of history and a sense of synergy with one another.


For a number of years Goldweitz hosted many of the festival’s signature events at the Levi Starbuck House and was involved in other aspects of the festival as well. Even though Denis didn’t intend to sell, he was a natural choice in continuing Denis’s legacy. Mark’s enthusiasm is obvious, his love for the island and the festival, contagious. It is easy to see how invested and proud he is of the event. He delivers the ultimate experience—remarkable wine and food at one of the world’s best locations.


Denis is all heart. Spend a few minutes with him and it’s easy to see how his spirit permeates every aspect of this “labor of love.”


It all starts with leadership. Both Denis and Mark had tirelessly walked the floor at all three grand tasting sessions and greeted guests, while keeping a watchful eye over every detail. Their presence was instrumental in ensuring a smooth, seemingly effortless feel of the affair.


What sets the NWF apart, is the presence of vintners showcasing their wines as well as  direct public access to chefs at all key events. Prominent vintners and chefs vie for an invitation to participate in the event. Many proprietors told me how proud they were to be chosen.


The vintners agree to pour wines themselves or have their winemakers in attendance. Some, like Michael Silacci, of Opus One, offer special tastings to honor the festival.  He brought a wonderful retrospective vertical from 2003-2005-2007-2009. The event offers an unique opportunity to connect with brand supporters in a beautiful, intimate setting; highly conducive to creating long-lasting attachments.


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Michael Silacci


The festival also provides a golden opportunity for local hotels and restaurants to contribute by showcasing their properties and their staff’s talents. In many ways, Denis Toner had transformed Nantucket from a marvelous, quiet vacation spot into a fine wine and gourmet food destination. Mark has expanded on the upscale and intimate nature of the event by adding new features. All in all, they are a partnership made in food and wine heaven. We, the public, are the happy beneficiaries of their vision and dedication.


I am counting the days to Nantucket Wine Festival 2016.

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

  • Unfortunately I live in MA, but haven’t been to the Nantucket Wine Festival. One day would be nice to take some time and enjoy the event and the island.

    January 8, 2016 at 5:06 am

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