By Laura Holloway
A festival that Southern Living magazine names as one of the most successful festivals in the
Southeast, the South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival, or SoWal Wine, is one of the
premiere happenings along the Emerald Coast each year.
Wine World’s Chan Cox founded the Sandestin Wine Festival more than 30 years ago, providing
the inspiration and backdrop for the launch of the SoWal Wine Festival in 2013. Cox’s longtime
relationships with the best of the best in winemaking (including Peter Mondavi Jr.) created a
strong foundation for the birth of the festival, as well as its continued growth and success.
Today, the festival takes over Grand Boulevard for four days in April and features more than
800 bottles of wine for tasting and countless nibbles for enjoying. Presented by Visit South
Walton, Wine Enthusiast Media and Grand Boulevard at Sandestin, the festival also exists as a
true testament to its community by giving back, with all proceeds supporting Destin Charity
Wine Auction Foundation, benefiting children in need in Northwest Florida.
Enjoying the finer things
Why is this festival such an area staple? Stacey Brady, director of marketing for Grand
Boulevard at Sandestin and executive director of the festival, said it has to do with standards.
“We are very fortunate to enjoy a high quality of life in South Walton. Both locals and visitors
are very engaged in our excellent cultural offerings and South Walton has become a mecca for
people who enjoy the finer things in life and, naturally, a fabulous wine festival would fall into
that category,” Brady said.
Wine enthusiasts’ palates are quenched with the incredible variety of fine wines from around
the world, but foodies also find a place at the festival, with the finest foods offered – including
cheeses, olives, sushi, charcuterie and decadent confections. The inclusion of exclusive tasting
seminars from celebrated industry experts and chefs adds even more flavor to the festival.
“Our festival is the center of the wine world for four days the last weekend in April,” Brady
admitted. “More than 800 wines are presented by knowledgeable wine industry insiders, giving
attendees the opportunity to learn about the wines from people who make them. The town
center of Grand Boulevard is transformed as more than 100 tasting and culinary tents pour
wines from around the globe.”
USA Today named the festival “One of the South’s Standout Food and Beverage Festivals,” not
only for the expansive offerings of food and wine, but also in the different special events,
seminars and entertainment options provided throughout the weekend.
Events get underway with the longtime favorite, Winemakers & Shakers Thursday night at Wine
World in Destin. There are two days of Grand Tastings, a VIP package and a Friday night kick-off
party called Craft Beer & Spirits Jam. The DCWAF holds its annual auction on site, too.
Popular tasting seminars give people the chance to go deeper into their wine festival
experience. Past seminars included Hamilton Russell Vineyards “Cape Wine and Classic
Cuisine,” Maker’s Mark “The Samuels Family Legacy,” “Pairings Across the Board” with Michael
Landis of the Institut de Fromage, and a discussion of the Oregon wine industry with Adelsheim
Vineyard’s David Adelsheim.
The main wine tasting experience takes place in the Florida sunshine, inviting patrons to stroll
from tent to tent for samples, including whites, reds, rosés, champagnes, and even a
designated ‘Spirits Row,’ offering rum, whiskey, bourbon and more.
In years past, the culinary tent has offered such delicacies as Alabama goat cheese fritters with
San Marzano tomato sauce, avocado sourdough with marinated baby tomatoes and Aleppo
pepper, and Heureux beef sliders with aged Gouda, tomato-bacon marmalade, and Coastal Blue
Farms micro arugula. Other not-to-be-missed attractions within the festival are the Rosé All Day
Garden, Nosh Pavilions, and the Craft Beer and Spirits Jam.
Setting sights on 2019
What can returning visitors to the festival expect this year that might be different from years
“We love to mix it up and keep it fresh each year – whether it’s a newly themed area like Rosé
All Day that we just added last year or a fantastic pairing of wines from a certain part of the
world with food from that same area,” explained Brady. “For 2019, we are bringing back Rosé
All Day and planning to present them in groupings from around the world. So, you will be able
to compare French rosés with California rosés or rosés from other great regions.
“Additionally, we will have a focus on wines from Oregon in the Culinary Village, powered by
Wine Enthusiast. Our attendees will love these! Eric Kramer, the winemaker with Jackson
Family Wines’ WillaKenzie is confirmed already and he will also do a tasting seminar.”
The official festival weekend begins Thursday, April 25 with Winemakers and Shakers. Friday,
April 26 offers a VIP tasting (4 to 9 p.m.) and the Craft Beer and Spirits Jam (6 to 9 p.m.). Two
full days of grand tastings follow on Saturday and Sunday, from 1 to 4 p.m. each day. Tickets are
available for special events within the festival, as well as weekend passes – both regular and VIP
– which come with perks such as express entry, priority reserved seating at tasting seminars, a
VIP swag bag, and entry to the exclusive Friday Night VIP tasting.
The South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival is held at Grand Boulevard at Sandestin, 495
Grand Boulevard, in Miramar Beach, the last weekend in April each year. For more information
or to purchase tickets, visit sowalwine.com.
This article originally appeared in the 2019 Spring Edition of the Food & Wine Guide for South Walton.