Woodlands Food & Wine Week Rocks!

by Rosie Carbo /
Rosie Carbo's picture
Jun 12, 2012 / 0 comments

The Woodlands Annual Wine & Food Week, held June 4-10 in a city 30 miles north of Houston, showcased fine wines and chef-driven gastronomy. The weeklong event draws some 10,000 wine and food aficionados each year.

It all began in 2002 with Houstonians Clifton and Constance McDerby who wanted to share their love of wine and haute cuisine with the Greater Houston area. That desire inspired them to found Food & Vine Time Productions.


Clifton and Constance McDerby

Clifton and Constance McDerby


The first food and wine event was called the Galveston Food & Vine Times, which attracted 300 attendees. In 2006, however, the event was moved from the island city to the affluent Woodlands and renamed. 

Since then, the McDerbys have expanded on their original goal of providing a venue for social and business networking opportunities. An additional goal was to eradicate pretentiousness associated with wine tasting.

To that end, the McDerbys recruited the help of local chefs, restaurants, winemakers, wineries, wine distributors, and wholesalers to help. They also persuaded H.E.B., one of the largest grocery chains in Texas, to help sponsor the wine events.

Now, Wine & Food Week has something for everyone (over age of 21) and every budget. Tickets range from $25 to $250 per event. While expensive tickets include VIP perks such as sipping one-of-a kind wines in a hotel wine vault, less expensive tickets have perks, too. So for seven days, you can decide how and where you want to sip one of the world’s most loved beverages.

Dinner events at local restaurants, such as Tavola’s Italian Tuscan restaurant, were elegant four-course affairs paired with premium wines.  One of the most prestigious events held at the end of the week featured a celebrity chef who once cooked for England’s royal family.

Royal Chef Darren McGrady was chef to Queen Elizabeth and the late Princess Diana. He was also the celebrated attraction at the WFW’s premiere event. He was the star at the “Royal, Regal and Real” held at the Waterway Marriott’s Hotel & Convention Center. This particular event has been hailed as “the most magnificent food and wine event in the country,” organizers said.

This evening event featured 50 chefs competing for the title of Waterford’s Crystal Chef of Chefs award, which included a cash prize of $5,000. The stellar wine and food tasting offered an assortment of 500 national and international wines and food from some 50 Houston and the Woodlands restaurants.

Celebrity chefs have become a staple of the ever-increasing number of wine and food events throughout Texas and the United States. Famous chefs such as McGrady, who now lives in Dallas, help to boost ticket sales.  A portion of those sales and silent auctions help organizers meet philanthropic goals.


Ladies of the Vine

Ladies of the Vine



Other Wine & Food Week events were so laid-back that patrons could stroll in and out of posh boutiques clad in sandals and T-shirts. The upscale Market Street in the Woodlands provided a fitting backdrop for this early-in-the week event.    

This year’s “Wine Walk at Market Street” was billed as fit for a queen. In an effort to play on the queen of England’s Diamond Jubilee, subjects were encouraged to wear tiaras. Organizers also felt a regal mood might help attendees choose wines for their own entertainment needs.  

Aimed at commoners, I enjoyed the “Sip, Suds & Sliders” event. An uncommonly popular annual soiree, it drew hundreds of wine lovers and foodies to one of the Woodlands Waterway Marriott’s large ballrooms.

Attendees donned everything from mini dresses to shorts, flip-flops to snakeskin cowboy boots at this evening shindig. I was handed a wineglass and plastic plate as I waded through the crowded ballroom. Later, I noted Texas wines dominated, though wines from Spain, New Zealand, and Israel were also available.

By now, wineries like Houston-area Bernhardt wineries, Austin-area Fall Creek, and other Texas wineries and winemakers are staking their claim at statewide food and wine events. Moreover, some winegrowers are planting grapes such as Tempranillo and Albariño in these parts.

My first sip of wine that evening was a lemon-colored white low on acid and full on fruit flavor. The winemaker asked if I was familiar with Albariño.  When I said I was, he poured me his version and proudly said: “This is an Albariño grown right here in Texas.”

In the past few years, I heard lots of folks say they’re growing this grape or that, which is not native Texan. The little I know about wine, however, tells me that terroir determines taste. So there’s no use in trying to clone or create a copy.  Who knows?  Texas terroir may be superior to European regions.

Evening highlights included the annual “Shining Slider Award” competition, where participating chefs and their restaurants vie for the title of most outstanding and tasty slider.  I heard the hot, sizzling sounds at every food table, not far from a wine table.

But what’s a slider, you ask? I haven’t done research on the origin of this term yet. So suffice it to say it’s a chunk of beef, lamb, pork, shrimp and other toppings that are placed on a miniature-sized hamburger bun.

How they came up with “slider” may have something to do with what I experienced. The beef and lamb I tried with fruit-forward Cabernet Sauvignon kept sliding off the tiny bun. After a couple of attempts to keep the meats on the bun, I gave up.

The backdrop to this Friday night was the Robert Hartye Band. Robert is lead singer and guitar player, together with a guitar-playing sidekick. No fooling. These two are the band, but Robert’s singing of Jimmy Buffet tunes had me doing double takes.  

Also on tap at this event was a cache of craft beer, which was equally popular. Considering the steady supply of creatively-crafted sliders, beer seemed wholly appropriate within the wine and food ambiance. One slider was a tongue-scorcher, so I almost broke down and reached for a beer.



Tasting desserts

Tasting desserts


Although the final event of the week was held at the Bernhardt Winery, about 50 miles northwest of Houston, it was equally popular with food and wine lovers. This time the celebrity guest was not a chef, but none other than country music icon, Gary P. Nunn.

Once again, the desire to bring wine to the masses prevailed, since tickets were the affordable price of $15 each.  Of course, if you were one who preferred VIP reserve seating, the ticket price increased to $45.

This was my first foray into the annual Wine & Food Week at the Woodlands, an event I had heard of for the past five years. But I know it won’t be my last. The seven days of choice events just whets the appetite, leaving you anticipating next June’s Wine and Food Week at the Woodlands. More information is at www.wineandfoodweek.com

Rosie Carbo is the Lifestyles Editor for Wandering Educators  


All photos courtesy and copyright Wine and Food Week at the Woodlands