Sour Grapes: Inside The Feud Over The Nantucket Wine Festival

JohnCarl McGrady •

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Photo by Cary Hazlegrove |

A vintage battle is fermenting between Nantucket Wine and Food Festival owner Nancy Bean and Gordon’s Fine Wines & Liquor, a Boston-based distributor and retailer, over the future of the event.

After nearly three decades on the island, Bean's Nantucket Wine and Food Festival has suddenly found itself up against an almost identical event hosted by Gordon’s and slated for the exact same dates next year, in what appears to be a targeted attempt to drive the old festival out of business and replace it.

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.

“It's really crazy for me to have this going on right now, especially in the wake of such a successful festival this year,” Bean told the Current. “The bigger picture now, I can't really say too much because there are lawyers involved, of course, and a lot will unfold in the next few weeks.”

Nancy Bean

The lawyers are involved in part because Gordon’s Fine Wine initially seemed to be claiming that it had purchased the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival. But Bean is adamant that she has not sold.

“Their written language says that they purchased the festival, that they acquired it, that it's a long-term festival that they're looking forward to rebranding,” Bean said. “That’s not true. It’s not accurate. It’s completely false.”

Gordon’s Fine Wine managing director David Gordon clarified that the experience is unrelated to the festival, and claimed the festivals being scheduled for the same dates was simply because it was the best time for a wine festival, right before the island’s busy season begins.

“We did not purchase the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival. Our company is producing a new festival,” Gordon said. “[The original language] was an error on our part which we retracted.”

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

Gordon knows that hosting two wine festivals on one island at the same time is probably untenable, and he believes his event is poised to take over.

“It's our access to wineries globally and we think our ability to bring them in will be better than currently existing [festival],” he said. “I think the most important thing is in order to host such a festival you need venues to also participate and we have a wonderful partner in the White Elephant.”

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

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 and rebranded it as the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival due to her belief that food is a necessary component to enjoy wine to its fullest.

Bean told the Current this week that the initial statement from Gordon’s Fine Wine that it had purchased the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival has prompted confusion and hard feelings. 

“The confusion is all out there. Once it's out, it's out. It's on zillions of websites. It's just hurtful,” Bean said.

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The Nantucket Wine Festival at the White Elephant in 2019.

“You have so much respect for me?” she added, referring to a statement Gordon had previously made claiming he had respect for her and her festival. “You sent out a media blitz to thousands in the industry that you had purchased the festival…they didn't make up those words. Those are your words. It's all good for him to say that he respects me and it's all good for him to say he's sorry there was confusion, but that doesn't change his words.”

The initial wording led several major industry publications to report that the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival had been sold and Bean has been struggling to manage an overwhelming number of press inquiries.

“I have been contacted massively by all the trade journals and the industry at large and the distributors and importers and wineries and chefs and publications and press,” she said. “It’s crazy.”

Gordon said he hopes the new event will benefit the community and help local companies. He said that helping the community was one of his primary goals, and emphasized that he believed the new event will be a step up from existing offerings.

Gordon’s Fine Wine has participated in the Nantucket Wine and Food Festival before and Bean said there had even been talks about partnering in some way with the Boston-based company.

“I actually had had conversations about partnering with Gordon's in some way,” Bean said. “I know what I feel is right for the island and I was hesitant to partner. But we were having conversations. And then to just act like it happened and swoop out and contact all of my vendors and employees, and everyone who has been involved with the festival, it's just hurtful.”

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