Meet the man behind the inaugural South Coast Food & Wine Festival at Berry in one week

Dream realised: South Coast Food & Wine Festival's Sam Tooley is delighted with the response to the inaugural event at Berry Showground.

Dream realised: South Coast Food & Wine Festival's Sam Tooley is delighted with the response to the inaugural event at Berry Showground.

Sam Tooley is a man on a mission.

When the inaugural South Coast Food & Wine Festival starts on Friday it will be 18 months to the day that the former Dolphin Watch Cruises' manager made a decision to act on something that had been brewing in the back of his mind.

What is unfolding this week is the culmination of him passionately throwing everything at a weekend of wine, food and local produce at Berry Showground.

And the way it is being embraced by chefs, restaurants and wine producers made Mr Tooley realise it as something local producers really want to support and be involved with.

"To say we are excited is an understatement. I have been involved in tourism and events for most of my career and also did some work in the supply chain side of things which has given me skills in project managing. And my wife Sonia has been involved in events and hospitality generally throughout her career".

The Vincentia couple have combined their skills and built a team around them to stage a wine and food event showcasing local produce that they hope will draw up to 7000 people the first year..Social media interest and feedback from local producers and people generally suggests they are on target.

"One of the things about food and wine tourism is attracting people to the region. But it is also a chance for locals to support local".

Mr Tooley was aware of how the Winter Wonderland Wine Festival grew so big it became a victim of its own success. And believed he had a solution to showcase local food and wine to a similar number of people in one manageable location. He is confident the Berry Showground will be able to easily handle the 12,000 people the former festival had over three days in its record year, 2017.

He is also confident the September 13 - 15 South Coast Food & Wine Festival will provide a similar result for local producers. And still give them the option of doing manageable themselves on the June long weekend each year.

When he approached members of the Shoalhaven Coast Wine Association about a collaborative event every September he had a very positive response. He then set about visiting other food and wine festivals around Australia. And putting all his time and effort into not only organising something similar at the Berry Showground. But doing it really well.

The Tooley's enjoyed a similar response from chefs, restaurants, craft breweries, dairies, seafood operators and local producers and wholesalers.

Rick Stein at Bannisters was the first restaurant on board. And chef Nick Gardner, of Hampden Deli and Dining School, is collaborating with a pumpkin farm and Kangaroo Valley Olives."I have seen him put his concept of working with primary producers together and the result is amazing," Mr Tooley said.

Chef Brent Strong, from Bengalay, is also doing a collaborative with South Coast Beef.

"All we did was look locally," Mr Tooley said.

"We were approached by a number of big brewers and wine makers from outside the region but we said no because we wanted to have authenticity when it came to regional produce".

The end result is all the food and wine as well as beer from six craft brewers is from southern NSW.

After looking at other similar style festivals in Australia the Tooleys also chose a careful blend of entertainment that did not take away from the food and wine style event during the day.

But Saturday night they intend to create a party atmosphere celebrating all things local.

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This story Meet the man behind the inaugural South Coast Food & Wine Festival first appeared on Illawarra Mercury.