Nantucket Wine Festival Feud Headed To Court After Federal Lawsuit Filed

Jason Graziadei •

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The Nantucket Wine Festival at the White Elephant in 2019.

After what appeared to be a hostile takeover attempt of the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival by Gordon’s Fine Wine earlier this month, festival owner Nancy Bean filed a lawsuit in federal court Wednesday against Gordon’s and the White Elephant Hotel.

Bean is accusing Gordon’s and the White Elephant of false and misleading advertising, unfair and deceptive trade practices, trademark dilution, breach of contract, tortious interference, and conspiracy.

“What has become clear is that the Gordon Parties did not intend to enter into a genuine partnership with the Nantucket Wine & Food Parties, but rather to take control of the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival and to do so without paying fair value,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, the Gordon Parties have engaged in a campaign of false and misleading advertising and promotions, after gaining access to proprietary and confidential financial information for other purposes, to exploit years of Bean’s hard work and success and claim the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival as their own.”

Read the full lawsuit by clicking here

Gordon’s Fine Wine initially claimed that it had purchased the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival, but later retracted that statement and clarified that it was producing a new event entirely. Most significantly, Gordon’s Fine Wine has struck a deal with the White Elephant, which has long hosted the Bean’s Nantucket Wine and Food Festival, to launch Gordon’s all-new Nantucket Food and Wine Experience. The new event will be held next May during the same week as the 27th iteration of the old festival.

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Nantucket Wine & Food Festival owner Nancy Bean

Calling Gordon’s new event a “fake festival,” Bean alleges that the wine and spirits distributor is attempting to take her venue, along with the same dates she had planned to host the event in 2025, and only later acknowledged to a limited audience that it had not actually purchased the festival.

Gordon’s Fine Wine has “not attempted in good faith to cure their misrepresentations. Rather, defendants continue to act with an improper motive to harm the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival and an improper means of using false and deceptive means necessary to take over the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival or force the Nantucket Wine & Food parties to sell their business interests on the cheap.”

Bean also alleges that Gordon’s Fine Wine hatched a scheme to gather confidential and proprietary information from her by enlisting Gordon’s own attorney - Todd Goldberg - to provide legal advice to her in connection with Bean buying out a former partner. The lawsuit claims that Goldberg obtained sensitive financial details about the festival during that process - including performance, vendor relationships, sponsorship agreement, and event planning - which he shared with Gordon’s as part of its “plan to take over the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival…”

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The Gordon's Fine Wine team: Kenny Gordon (left), Rick Gordon, and David Gordon (right).

While Bean asserted in the lawsuit that the 2024 Nantucket Wine & Food Festival was completed with “rave reviews and substantial positive feedback,” the trouble began shortly thereafter. Gordon allegedly “made negative comments to Bean about the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival. Bean also heard from others that Gordon disparaged the Nantucket Wine & Food Parties, falsely stating in substance that vendors did not want to do business with her. Gordon attempted to buy the festival from Bean with “an unreasonable proposal” to take over management of the event, which Bean declined.

The lawsuit alleges that The White Elephant violated its existing agreement with Bean’s Nantucket Wine & Food Festival - which runs through the end of 2024 and requires the hotel to offer its “prestige and goodwill” to the festival - by striking a deal with Gordon's Fine Wine.

“By supporting another event not only in direct competition, but actually masquerading as the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival, and then supporting this falsehood, White Elephant has diverted its ‘prestige’ or ‘goodwill’ from the Nantucket Wine & Food Parties to the Gordon Parties, thereby violating the terms of the Wine Festival Agreement,” the lawsuit states. “White Elephant has joined the Gordon Parties in efforts to treat the Nantucket Wine & Food Festival as their own, through false statements suggesting the original event had been purchased and rebranded, and that White Elephant ‘continued’ its role in the ‘long-running’ event.”

The White Elephant has opted not to comment on its decision to back Gordon’s Fine Wine over Bean but did provide a statement confirming that a new deal is in place with Gordon’s.

“We are honored that our harborside hotel will continue to serve as the official host for this dynamic partnership with The Gordon Companies. We look forward to carrying on the tradition of providing food and wine excellence for locals and visitors alike on beautiful Nantucket,” The White Elephant’s statement read.

The Nantucket Wine Festival was founded in 1996 by Denis Toner, a longtime Nantucket seasonal resident. Bean began her tenure with event in 2007 when she was hired by Toner to become the director of operations. Then in 2012, Toner sold the festival to Bean and her then-business partner, Mark Goldweitz. Since then, Bean has become the sole owner of the festival - acquiring it for approximately $1 million, according to the lawsuit - and rebranded it as the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival.

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The Nantucket Wine And Food Festival grand tasting. Photo by Cary Hazlegrove |
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