A generous pour
South Walton Beaches Wine Fest offers eats, drinks for a cause
May 2, 2017
By Michelle Farnham
There’s just something about a springtime wine festival: ladies in flowing sundresses and matching hats, smartly dressed gentlemen, and sunshine. With tasting glasses at the ready, everyone seems to be strolling at a pace that can only be described as “Southern wine festival.”
Such was the scene at the 2017 South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival, held April 27 to 30 at Grand Boulevard Town Center. With over 100 tents and 800 kinds of wine, distributors were lining up for a chance to pour for charity at what USA Today calls “One of the South’s standout food and beverage festivals.”
Grand Boulevard Marketing Director Stacey Brady said 4,318 people showed to eat, drink and be merry – 315 more folks than in 2016.
“The Friday night Craft Beer and Spirits Jam sold out, as did the Saturday VIP tasting, and we were at capacity for both Grand Tastings for Saturday and Sunday,” Brady said. “We’re still hearing from sponsors, distributors, and attendees saying that they think it was the best festival ever!”
Highlights of the Friday night Jam included pours from legendary Wild Turkey Master Distiller Jimmy Russell, a live musical performance from Iron Smoke Distillery co-owner Tommy Brunett and his band, and the impossibly buttery apple bruschetta from Another Broke Egg Cafe.
In addition to limitless beverage samples, Saturday and Sunday’s festivities included Champagne Lane Tastings, featuring chocolate-covered caramel apples from Kilwins Chocolates. The Culinary Village offered such delicacies as the Alabama Goat Cheese Fritters with San Marzano Tomato Sauce, from the kitchen of Scott Plumley at Wine World Restaurants. Out at the Grand Tastings, The HUB 30A Chef Stephen Bucalo’s Smoked Chili-Lime Wings earned high praise with festival-goers, as did the Blood Orange Sorbet from Chef Ted Morrison at Barefoot’s Beachside Bar & Grill.
From vine to wine
Brady said the tasting seminars remain one of the most popular components of the weekend, and the caliber of this year’s offering was outstanding. Don Hartford, Jackson Family Wines and Hartford Family Wines; Franco Massolino, Massolino Wines; Brunett; Laurent Gruet, Gruet Winery; Jameson Fink, Wine Enthusiast Magazine; and Glenn Salva, Antica Napa Valley and Antinori; all graced the seminar stage.
In his first year at the festival, Hartford was the featured vintner at the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation patron dinner hosted by Jeanne Dailey and Jay Nettles, and Ben and Tiffany Edwards. He showcased Pinot Noirs during his Saturday time slot.
“We make about 15 different Pinot Noirs from about six or seven appellations … The crowd is beautiful and everyone here is so interested in the wines,” Hartford explained afterward, as one fan stopped by to congratulate him, saying, “The AVAs really showed through.”
Gruet’s Sunday presentation, “French Roots, American Dreams,” talked sparkling wines, including the Gruet Sauvage NV.
“Sauvage is very dry, so it is great as an aperitif,” Gruet said. “The American palate has changed dramatically over the last 30 years in favor of drier wines. But, drier wine has to be good wine!”
Auction: Tours, Tahiti and a Tesla
A capacity crowd of 600 – paddles in hand – showed up for the 12th annual Destin Charity Wine Auction, an exclusive part of the festival. Foundation President John Russell said before the first lot went on the auction block, they had already raised over $700,000 for Northwest Florida charities, included $565,000 from Friday night’s 14 patron dinner auctions.
“Thank you for everything you’ve done, and everything you’re about to do,” Russell told the patrons before bidding began. “This is not a big town, but we have some very generous families here.”
Taking home the trophy for most money raised was the Alpha Omega Winery and Tolosa Winery dinner hosted by Jack and Candis Wilson of Destin. That one meal alone brought in a staggering $164,350.
Once things got rolling with Auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski behind the gavel, the winning bid total passed the $1 million mark after just 10 lots. Final numbers from the live auction, silent auction and “super silent auction” were not available at press time.
In addition to extravagant vacations, artwork and elegant dinners, two lots created the most buzz. Lot No. 1, dubbed “Magnum Force,” drew a winning bid of $55,000 for more than 50 autographed magnum wine bottles from DCWA vintners, past and present.
Lot No. 22, nicknamed Need For Speed, garnered a final bid of $85,000 and included a rare 2010 Tesla Roadster Sport with just 5,000 miles on the odometer. The winner also gets a guided tour of the Tesla factory in Fremont, Calif., a two-night stay at a WaterSound condo, pontoon cruise on Lake Powell, a watersports package and more.
Pulling it off – again
Festival founder and Wine World owner Chan Cox offered praise for the hard work and generosity of many, including St. Joe Foundation, The Howard Group, Grand Boulevard, Frank Flautt at The Hilton, and Wyndham Resorts.
“I especially want to thank the people; what an awesome community we live in. The generosity of the people in this community is what makes me feel good,” Cox said.
Work is already underway for next year’s festival, scheduled for April 26 to 29, 2018.
Photo credits: Michelle Farnham