Hilton Head Wine Auction & Celebration Fri. March 23- Sun. April 1
Prices and locations vary by event www.artshhi.com

Hilton Head Island has long been a Charleston getaway destination. The lure of golf, outlet mall shopping, and the ever popular (might we add omnipresent) Salty Dog Café T-shirts keep Holy City visitors coming back for more. But for all the island’s R&R options, the resort city rarely registers as a wine destination — until now.

“Really there’s four major wine events on Hilton Head each year,” said Ann-Marie Adams, executive director for the Hilton Head Hospitality Association. “We have Zin Fest and Wine Time in the Fall, and WineFest and the Hilton Heads Arts Center Wine Auction and Celebration in the spring.”

Never heard of these before? Yeah, neither had we. Nor did we believe it until we joined 5,000 spectators at the public tasting and auction at the Hilton Head WineFest on March 10. Over 1,500 domestic and international wines were open for sampling to attendees, with tickets at only $30 a pop. All proceeds benefit a scholarship awarded to a local individual pursuing an education in the culinary arts, hospitality, or related field.

Unbeknownst to many in the Lowcountry, for over 22 years the Hilton Head Area Hospitality Association has been hosting the Hilton Head WineFest, and oenophiles take note: this is one major event.

J. Lohr Vineyards & Wines Arroyo Seco Arroyo Vista Vineyard Chardonnay took Best of Show. 2005 Matanzas Creek Sonoma County Chardonnay was a Gold medal winner, and all the way from the “Napa of the North” Washington state, 2003 Sagelands Vineyards Columbia Valley Cabernet Sauvignon was awarded Best Value Red. It appears Hilton Head’s come to play in the Southeast’s game of wine enthusiast.

Luckily for us, WineFest isn’t the only time islanders hit the sauce.

March 23 through April 1 is the Hilton Head Wine Auction and Celebration, featuring our own local luminary Bob Waggoner of Charleston Grill. The five-day event will include a champagne and caviar dinner, wine and food seminars, celebrity chef and vintner’s dinners (featuring Mr. Waggoner) and a closing night black-tie wine auction gala.

Which means local epicureans who didn’t get their fix at the Charleston Food + Wine Festival are in luck. There’s more fermented libations to be had only a short drive away.

“This event really draws two kinds of people,” says Terry Bergeron, director of marketing and communications for the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, “Those who really love the arts and those who really love wine.”

The Wine Auction and Celebration has been an island staple for the past 11 years and keeps the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina children’s programs funded. “We bring the Crayola Dream-Makers project to area schools, take kids on field trips and bring the arts into the classroom and it’s all made possible by this event,” said Bergeron.

That said, if you need more incentive than crayons for kids, check this, “Our board members managed to gather every bottle from this year’s Wine Spectator Magazine’s top 10 wines in the world list, which will be on auction,” added Bergeron.

Enough said. That’ll put a wino on the road faster than you can say, “I am not drinking Merlot!”

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