Story by Sara Reese
The South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival returns for its sixth year to Grand Boulevard of Sandestin. This featured Southeastern attraction benefits the children of the Emerald Coast by way of Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation. Local wine guru and festival founder Chan Cox set the precedent for the current festival 32 years ago and continues to use his passion for wine, food, and influence in the industry to bring this premiere event to the community of South Walton.
The festivities kick off Feb. 2 with the Tasting of Champions, a preview of standouts selected by educated judges from over 70 varieties and 600 bottles of wine. The event takes place in the Sandestin Golf Beach Resort & Spa Ballroom and offers gourmet culinary stations and an advance peek of the medal-winning wines.
This event teaser determines the participants showcased throughout the April festival weekend as well as the festival wines poured during the grand tasting. Michael Moore of Signorello, Erik Saccomani of Antinori, and Andrew Holloway of Rombauer are among just a few of the wine celebrities to attend this festival in previous years.
Stacey Brady, marketing director at Grand Boulevard, takes pride in the care that goes into selecting wines for the festival.
“This is one of the festival components that goes to the integrity of our festival and the quality of wines that will be poured at the festival,” she said.
The main events: April 2018
The festival weekend opens on Thursday, April 26, 2018, with the “Winemakers and Shakers” event at Wine World Destin. Keep company with connections from the wine and culinary stage that Chan Cox has spent decades cultivating.
The festival weekend picks up in the late afternoon on Friday, April 27, with the VIP Wine Tasting in the Culinary Village. VIPs will enjoy presentations from celebrity winemakers accompanied by selections from top restaurants in Grand Boulevard and South Walton.
Friday festivities transition into the evening with the “Craft Beer & Spirits Jam.” Sample and converse with the brewers and distillers behind some of the most popular names in the country. The 2017 festival featured Wild Turkey’s master distiller James C. Russell and Carlton Grooms of Papa Pilar’s Rum, to name a few. Small plates and bites will be provided on EATS STREET while you enjoy live music on the main festival stage.
Grand Tastings take place from 1 to 5 p.m. Saturday, April 28, and Sunday, April 29. Tasting tents pouring over 800 different wines will line the center of Grand Boulevard. The festival has thrived on relationships within the wine, spirits, and culinary industry, nurtured over the last 35 years, bringing an exclusive group of attendees that choose to showcase their products at this event. Favorited selections will be available for purchase at the large retail tent erected on site.
New for 2018 is the “Rosé All Day Garden” where attendees can experience the diversity this varietal offers and find rosé-themed giveaways and activities. With the growing popularity of the rosé varietal, the developers are excited to have an entire section dedicated to “follow the pink.”
Also new this year, the Paso Robles tent brings together in-demand wines from this celebrated region of California. The festival will bid adieu to “Champagne Lane” (we can all shed a collective tear). The sparkling street had a successful five years but will be retired in the spirit of event innovation and keeping things fresh.
Sumptuous bites, seminars galore
Under the Savor South Walton Culinary Village tent, entertaining tasting seminars presented by experienced vintners and distillers allow an opportunity to dive deeper into featured wines and spirits. The event draws many winemakers and individuals intimate with wineries and the winemaking process.
To be able to share in that knowledge is just one of the many values built in with the price of the grand tasting experience. The space also offers abundant options to enjoy the shade and small bites from South Walton’s finest chefs and restaurants exclusively invited by the festival team.
Going once, going twice, sold!
Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation Patron Packages allow access to all festival events, exclusive access to the reserve tasting and wine auction, and attendance at one of the private patron dinners. Hosted at restaurants and fine area homes, the patron dinners gather wine enthusiasts with world renowned chefs and vintners to benefit one of DCWAF’s 15 local children’s charities. This intimate evening allows the charities to share their missions with the patrons while enjoying a multi-course meal paired with exclusive wines.
The Reserve Tasting and Wine Auction begins at 1 p.m. Saturday, offering those with passes a chance to indulge in pairings from local chefs, specialty vintners and selections not offered elsewhere at the event.
Wine Spectator Magazine has ranked the auction in its “Top 10 Wine Auctions in the U.S.” for the past five years, with a top rank of No. 3 in 2017. The auction celebrates its 13th anniversary this year, raising over $15 million for local children’s charities since 2005 – and $2.7 million in 2017 alone.
Kate Mikos with DCWAF said one of the favorite events of the weekend is this Saturday auction.
“The energy in the live auction tent on Saturday – and the excitement of our patrons and vintners to raise money for kids within our community – is truly spectacular to witness. Every auction throughout the country has a very particular personality, and ours is that of a huge, high energy party,” Mikos said.
Stay updated on festival events and purchase event tickets at www.sowalwine.com, or on the Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest pages. The wine, spirits, culinary, and entertainment lineup will be finalized in mid-March.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2018 Edition of the Food & Wine Guide for South Walton. Photos provided courtesy of the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival.