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What happens when you bring together 10 chefs from all over the world to host a seven course meal? You would think competition, jealousy, criticism, and near-disaster. Contrary to our favorite cooking competition shows, the chef culture at Cellardoor Winery’s Vinfest 2015, was much the opposite.
For the past seven years, the owner of Cellardoor Winery, Bettina Doulton, has hosted Vinfest, which consists of a two-day celebration of food and wine.
This year, the Vinfest was split into a gala event on Friday and a tasting event on Saturday. The events consisted of 10 Relais & Châteaux chefs from all over the world. Vinfest takes place on the vineyard in a gorgeous Harvest Tent that is decorated similarly to a great hall. On Friday, the gala began with a reception and followed with a seven-course dinner. The dinner was paired with seven different wines, and the guests had the freedom to choose which wine best suited each dish. The event concluded with a performance by two-time Grammy Award-winning artist, singer, and songwriter Colbie Caillat.
Saturday evening was less formal and brought in more people, but was just as spectacular. The tasting event was Mardi Gras-themed and had each chef in a small tent on the borders of the large tent. Guests had the freedom to try everything and mingle as they walked around. The second night concluded with performances from Billy Ocean and Shaggy.
We spoke with Bettina Doulton about the logistics of the event and what keeps it selling out every year.
The Daily Meal: What was your first thought when organizing this event the first time? Why do you continue to do it every year?
Bettina Doulton: The answer then is the same seven years later. My thoughts and inspirations are visions of happy guests in an idyllic vineyard setting. I continue to host this event, and others, because the guests who have attended want to come back and others who have heard of it want to come. Smiling happy dancing guests — a simple and complex motivation I admit.
What does the preparation look like for the events?
The preparation for each event has similar and new elements. Dates for the following year are selected in August of the current year to get into local calendar publications. The creative part, the selection of themes, entertainers, and culinary talent, happens by year end. Importantly, we work year to year with a core team — Wallace Events, Flourish Events, Megunticook Market, and Trillium Caterers. We have worked together so many years that we have a great shorthand understanding of getting it done. Everyone contributes creatively and with incredible passion.
What was your inspiration behind the theme of each night? What atmosphere were you hoping to create?
New Orleans. Its gracious elements and its vibrancy inspired the weekend. Friday night was meant to feel like the fabulous fine dining restaurants of New Orleans. Saturday night the vibrancy of Bourbon Street. And yes, in both cases, we took creative license with it all.
Based on past years, how was this event unique?
The involvement of Relais & Châteaux was unexpected and an unbelievable treat for our guests — unique for sure. Chefs from the R&C family created a beautiful unique multi-course menu for Friday's seated dinner and then prepared off the charts food for food stations on Saturday night.
Why were the 10 chefs chosen?
Relais & Châteaux’s collection of fine hotels and gourmet restaurants got behind this event and the invite went out to many restaurants in their association. We were flattered by their willingness to come to Maine to present these events. The chefs chose to come when invited and some of the biggest names in Relais & Châteaux association came including Barbara Lynch and Scott Jones from Menton in Boston, Colin Bedford from Fearrington Restaurant in North Carolina, and Josh Feathers from Blackberry Farm in Tennessee. I was honored and quite honestly, surprised. I kept saying, "Do they know they’re coming to a vineyard in Maine?”
What difficulties does the event bring?
These events don't bring difficulties. Challenges, yes. The biggest one is that the size of the events are limited to ensure we can do a good job for our guests. The events sell out and people are disappointed they can't get tickets. Increasing the size of the events would mean losing the feel of a private party. That's not what we are looking to do. The other lesser challenge is logistics. I don't think we have had a year when one of our performers didn't have some sort of travel snafu. So there's always a scramble behind the scenes that guests can't know about.
What do you plan to do next year?
VinFest and Harvest Party are on the schedule for 2016. We are working on specifics now. I hope to transport people with a more fanciful theme in 2016.