South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival raises millions for kids
By Michelle Farnham
If you can’t find a wine you like at the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival, it
doesn’t exist. With more than 800 bottles spread across more than 100 booths –
including a 22-table Rosé All Day Garden – there is something to please every palate.
Friday night’s Craft Beer & Spirits Jam kicked off the Grand Boulevard festivities,
with 59 stations pouring everything from Kerry Gold Irish Cream to Boggy Bayou
Stout to Rattlesnake Rosie’s Apple Pie Whiskey.
Eats Street gave tasters a chance to sample food, like the pecan-smoked chicken
wings with Alabama white sauce slaw from Grayton Beer Brewpub, shrimp rolls
from Roux 30a, and the slow-roasted Chinese-style spare rib from South Walton
newcomer Nanbu Noodle Bar.
One guest returned to the La Cocina Mexican Grill & Bar station to rave about the
tuna tacos with pear and pineapple kimchi and charred tomatillo salsa.
“Listen, I don’t eat tuna or kimchi or cilantro, and look: I have a clean plate,” she
admitted. “This is delicious!”
The Grand Tastings Saturday and Sunday gave winemakers their chance to shine,
including a special selection of Jackson Family Wines inside the Culinary Village.
Haley Wells with Artisans & Estates was on hand pouring Matanzas Creek
Sauvignon Blanc, Ex Post Facto Syrah and – the fan favorite – the Hartford Court
Russian River Valley Pinot Noir.
“This event is incredible. I’ve done a ton of these festivals with Jackson Family and
I’ve never seen anything to this extent before,” she said. “Everyone keeps coming up
saying, ‘I want the Russian River!’ The valley has a really well known presence when
it comes to Pinot Noirs, and they’re well-trusted. This one is very well accoladed by
(wine advocate) Robert Parker.”
Tasting seminars give festival-goers a chance to dig deeper into the flavors they
love. Bill Samuels Jr., retired president and chairman emeritus of Maker’s Mark,
shared glimpses of his incredible life at the center of the Kentucky bourbon scene.
“Pappy Van Winkle gave me my first drink – I was 12,” Samuels admitted. “He said
‘just two fingers’ and I didn’t know what he was talking about.”
He expanded on his mission to evolve Marker’s Mark, moving the flavor profiles by
changing ingredient ratios to create Maker’s 46 Bourbon.
Other presenters included Michael Landis of the Institut du Fromage, pairing meats
and cheeses with Jackson Family Wines; and Eugenia Keegan, Erik Kramer and
Mollie Battenhouse, speaking on “The Origin and Evolution of Oregon Wines.”
Wine-tasters Marie and Jonathan Wilson were in town from Atlanta, celebrating
“I am super excited to be here,” Marie said, admitting she’d found a new favorite
Riesling. “Everything is so nice, and the variety of wines is impressive.”
Late Sunday afternoon, Steve Jager of Birmingham was enjoying his final sips with
wife Annalisa, as a breeze blew through the Rosé pavilion.
“It’s hard to pick a favorite, there’s a lot of great things. On the wine side, probably
the Krupp from the VIP tent Friday night. After three days of this, it’s hard to keep
track! Friday night was enjoyment to excess!“ Jager admitted, recalling that this was
his fifth time in town for the festival.
“We were surprised by the Argentina wines, they were always good,” added his
friend Ted Stuckenschneider. “The Rosé tent was wonderful; everybody is enjoying
this and the weather was delightful. As past president of the International Food and
Wine Society in Birmingham, I had to plan 22 wine events a year for two years, and
so, I think I can tell you this was a good one.”
Paddles in the air
As if a 3-day wine and food festival isn’t enough for one weekend, the Destin Charity
Wine Auction is held concurrently at Grand Boulevard, all working to raise funds for
more than a dozen local children’s charities.
A pre-auction reserve tasting gave patrons a chance to meet and mingle while
sampling elevated wines and bites, like the pan-seared scallops with mango beurre
blanc from Vue on 30a, the New York strip with mushrooms and apricot demi gloss
from Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood, and the poached Gulf shrimp with English
pea puree by Caliza Restaurant.
Once the party got started in the auction hall, DCWAF President John Russell
reminded the crowd that in the auction’s 13-year history, the foundation has raised
over $18 million for Northwest Florida children’s charities.
“We’re going to drink wine, but our mission is clear,” Russell said. “There are a lot of
children in need … if you stay committed, we’ll break $20 million today.”
Combining the $685,000 raised during the previous night’s patron dinners,
combined with winning bids like $55,000 for the 50-bottle Magnum Force lot,
$40,000 for a trip to Sea Island, Ga., and $36,000 to make your own barrel of Maker’s
Mark bourbon in Kentucky, that mark was quickly surpassed.
The DCWAF’s next event is the Harvest Wine & Food Festival, scheduled for Oct. 24
to 26, 2019. The 15 th annual Destin Charity Wine Auction weekend is April 24 to 26,
Photos by Michelle Farnham and Phil Heppding