Ok…that’s a little bit of a lie. The Wilmington Wine and Chocolate Festival isn’t only about tasting…it’s also about seeing, feeling, listening and smelling a tempting variety of “somethings” that will leave a smile on your face…or in the case of Friday night’s comedy act…make you lol! (my daughter tells me that means laugh out loud…)
The Wine and Chocolate Festival is a weekend-packed event, organized by a group of amazing volunteers, VOCAL (Volunteer Older Citizens Action League) with proceeds benefiting activities and services of The New Hanover County Senior Resource Center. When you go, plan on attending more than one day because there is plenty to do.
Friday Night Date Night
While Valentine’s Day may be a “Hallmark” holiday that happens once a year, bringing your special someone out on a Friday night a few weeks before actual V-day and surrounding them with chocolate, wine, food, music, and entertainment will certainly score you some points in the romance department.
You and a few hundred of your closest “friends you haven’t met yet” can gather at what could be the coolest venue in town – the old Train Depot. I absolutely loved the mix of old brick and wood shutters!
This year’s set-up included an “old world” European touch with a mini Eiffel Tower, a small dance floor, live music, and several little places to sit and relax on benches or bistro-styled tables.
The Friday night Grand Tasting Event was well attended. We were shoulder to shoulder in some sections – mostly around the food samplings, provided by Catering Thyme, and the wine tasting booths provided by various local North Carolina Wineries.
Tip: The food was incredible! However, they are “nibbles” so don’t go to the event hungry. Eat a light meal before – just enough to balance your blood sugar, but not too much where you kill your taste buds.
Rosemary + Herb = Basile
Basile, the Comedian, working the stage in the Beer, Cigar, and Comedy Lounge, explained that he had his parents to thank for his decision to become a comedian. They had a great sense of humor. His father’s name is Herb; his mother’s name is Rosemary, and they named him Basile.
He had some good things to say about Wilmington, North Carolina; however, this little Greek boy had some trouble understanding the appeal of grits. He describes this Southern staple as something like “eating apple sauce on the beach on a windy day…”
My face got a good workout with non-stop laughter as Basile, the “Centerfold of Comedy” skillfully walked that delicate line between laugh your ass off funny, and “oh my gosh…did he really just say/do that!?” One man in the audience quickly sought refuge in the back of the room when the possibility of a lap dance seemed eminent…
Music Filled the Air
Meanwhile, back at the dance floor…the band played on.
As we exited the comedy show, we were met by a Purple Rain guitar solo, played behind the head from El Jaye Johnson and the Port City All-Stars. The crowd was dancing, cheering and having a great time – wine glass in one hand, and a chocolate treat in the other.
There were various musical acts all weekend long, including the smooth sax sounds of Wilmington’s own Benny Hill.
More than Chocolate and Wine
If chocolate and wine are not your thing (first of all…what’s wrong with you!?!?) *just kidding…there is plenty more to see and do at the event.
Vendors included local artisans, candy makers, food makers, services, wineries and chocolatiers.
If you ever want to know where the backbone of America is, talk with vendors in shows like this. I was absolutely blown away by the quality of the art – wine, chocolate, and a variety of handcrafted items, and their beautiful displays. Even better, the passion of the people on the other side of the table.
The question I love to ask is: How did you get started?
Instantly, their eyes light up. Some shared how life had taken an unexpected turn and rather than sit around and wonder “who’s going to fix this” they asked a better question: How can I fix this?
And the “how” turned out to be something they had been passionate about or good at for a very long time.
Their “how” emerged from the dreams or “what if’s” they had previously felt compelled to tucked away for another day as they pursued the grind of life…their “real job.”
The result of the discovery of their how? Their “someday” became “now” and the joy of that decision lit up their eyes as they told me their stories.
I love moments like that.
Yes…I Would Wrap My Naked Body In That
You could say that about the wine or the chocolate on display at the festival, but for me it was something a little bit cleaner.
I’m talking about the Coconut Hand Whipped Body Scrub from Carolina Shores Natural Soap.
At first you rub in the scrub, feeling what you expect to feel with a good sugar exfoliation. And then…it happens.
My eyes widened as the soap begin build into a luxurious lather. Now, I’m not using the word “luxurious” lightly here.
You know those super soft-to-the-touch mink-link bathrobes you get at the spa? Well this soap lathers up kind of like that and you’re going to want to say…“Yeah…I’ll wrap my naked body in this!”
Unfolding the Mystery of Chocolate
“Oh, I have something special for you…”
That’s what the woman at The Madison Chocolatiers West said to my husband and me as we approached her booth. That twinkle in her eye made me believe I was about to “…taste the divine.”
She handed us a truffle from the “back of the room” (we were already intrigued) and said, “Wait, I have to give you instructions.”
Instructions for eating chocolate?
First, you turn the truffle upside down and take a bite.
We did, and I immediately noticed how the chocolate felt in my mouth. Rich, full, with the perfect touch of sweetness and…something else. It was a flavor my palate recognized but my brain could not identify it with words. I asked, “What is it?”
“Wait.” She teased.
Second, turn the truffle right side up and take just a nibble from the flower at the top. This was a real, dried flower. Crunchy. Hiding a little magic that would unleash the mystery of the chocolate.
Third. Now, bite into the chocolate like normal. We did. Wow – the flavors of the chocolate really came alive. And there was that familiar, elusive flavor – even stronger…but still, I couldn’t put a name to it.
You see the flower contains a natural alcohol which opens up the taste buds in your mouth and allows every part of the candy to come alive, dance, and tease your taste buds.
And the elusive flavor? Lime!
Rum and Candy…of course!
If you remember, I first met Pecan Jack at the Morehead Chocolate Festival a year earlier. I loved him them, and I’m ready to adopt him now!
Think about this: Pralines and Pecan Brittle made with the finest Caribbean Rum Bourbon….and a few other surprises.
My husband loved the Pralines – melt in your mouth yummy!
I was surprisingly drawn to the Bayou Pecan Brittle flavored with Cajun spice. In fact, I’m eating a piece right now, with my morning coffee! (don’t judge…) The brittle has a soft “bite” so you won’t need to worry about losing a tooth.
Theirs is a story of starting a business when challenge showed up on their doorstep.
Friends and family told them they should “sell that stuff” which they had been making as gifts for years. The owners thought they were just being kind – afterall, they were friends and family, they HAD to say they liked it, right?
Turns out – their first fans were spot on. This stuff is amazing.
The Wrap UP and more….
I will definitely add this event to my calendar for next year. With a great selection of entertainment and vendors, and plenty to see and do, I hope that you’ll go too!
See you there…
Activities continue throughout the entire weekend:
Live Entertainment on the Marketplace stage throughout weekend
- Benny Hill
- Susan Savia
- El Jaye Johnson
- Darryl Donnell Murrill
- Rebekah Todd
The Market Place – including over 50 regional wine makers, chocolatiers, bakers, specialty food purveyors, musical artists, and artisans.
Culinary Demonstrations in the Riverview Terrace Room
- “Kabob Your Way to Healthy Eating” by GAMMS
- “Chicken Mondavi” by Executive Chef, Sam Lawler of Catering Thyme
- “Vinaigrettes 101” by Kristin Williams, Vom Fass Oils, Vinegars and Spices
- “Chocolate Dipped Treats” by Sue Papach of So Sweet Chocolates
- “DIY All Natural Cocoa Facial Mask” by Lisa Keenan of Carolina Shores Natural Soap
“Fun Time” Kid’s Corner hosted by Funtime Inflatables & Party Rentals
- “Kid’s Art Project” with Georgia Mastroieni of Cameron Museum of Art
- “Children’s Build & Grow Project” with Staff of Lowe’s Home Improvement Store, Monkey Junction
- “Hands-On Planting Fun” with Staff of The Ability Garden of the New Hanover Country Arboretum
The Catering Thyme Café
Gift Basket and Wrapping Room
The Festival Store (Official Festival Merchandise)
When You Go:
Wilmington Wine & Chocolate Festival
Event Location: Coastline Event Center
Historic Downtown Wilmington
503 Nutt Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
*Tickets sold online, many area Harris Teeters, and at the door (subject to availability)
Costs for 2016 (the year I attended)
- Grand Tasting – Friday Night (7pm-10pm)
- $45 in advance / $60 at the door
- *subject to availability
- The Marketplace (Saturday & Sunday)
- General Admission: $15 in advance / $20 at the door
- Reduced Ticket Prices: $10 in advance / $15 at the door
- *group, kids, seniors, military – check site for details
- **tickets at the door are subject to availability
2016 Event Prizes Awarded to the Following Booths:
Madison Chocolatiers- Best in Show Chocolate
Vom Foss- Best in Show Specialty Foods
Stephen’s Winery- Best in Show Muscadine
Shadow Springs Winery – Best in Show Varietals
Vendors of Note
NOTE: Every vendor at the event had products that delighted your eyes and your tastebuds…this list is not complete. I was able to talk with many and taste or admire their wares and I’m sure you will do the same when you go! This is just a sample of what you may see…
So Sweet Chocolates
Yummy hot chocolate served up from their pop-up pink “Glamper”
Carolina Shores Natural Soap
Topsail Island, NC
Their products can be found at this shop:
The Shoppes at Mia’s
14061-D Hwy. 50
Surf City, NC 28445
They have stores in Richmond, VA
Or order online
*Everything I’ve tasted with them is Out Of This World Good!
Stony Point Fashion Park
9200 Stony Point Pkwy
Downtown – Streetside on Cary at 12st Street
The Richmond Omni
“A Sweet Day is a Bite Away…wanna Bite?”
Stephens Vineyard & Winery
James Stephens, Owner
Family owned and operated
Line of Fine Sauces (and Rubs!)
212 Rivermeade Drive
Archdale, NC 27263
**Put this one on your gift/wish list!
Kathy Harrington, Designer
Facebook: Coastal Glass
Atlantic Beach, NC 28512
Cape Fear Spice Merchants
20 Market Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
Sea Love Sea Salt
Sea salts for cooking and for beauty!
Samuel B. Lawler IV, Executive Chef
The Madison Chocolatiers West
Lativa Accents and Art
Claudia Bustamante, Jewelry Designer
Facebook: LATIVA, Accents & Art
Broomtail Craft Brewery
6404 Amsterdam Way
Wilmington, NC 28405
“Savor the Sweet Taste of the South”
1452 Welcome-Arcadia Rd.
*They have a tasting room
Brightmore University Series
*Various classes for Lifestyle Enrichment
Other Things to See in Wilmington:
Wilmington Railroad Museum
*Right next door – tickets $5-$9
505 Nutt Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
The Cotton Exchange
*Over 30 Local Shops & Restaurants
321 N. Front Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
Java Dog Coffee Shop
(In The Cotton Exchange)
303 North Front Street
Wilmington, NC 28401
Riverfront Farmers Market
*Closed during the week of this event; opens again
in the Spring – about April