South Walton’s newest festival harvests fun and funds
Inaugural event floods WaterColor’s Cerulean Park
By Michelle Farnham
Wednesday November 8th, 2017
WATERCOLOR – The harvest has long been a time to celebrate, and for Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation President John Russell, that seemed like the perfect namesake for South Walton’s newest soiree. After several successful years with Seaside’s Seeing Red Wine Festival, DCWAF rolled out the red carpet for its latest project: the four-day Harvest Wine & Food Festival.
The Nov. 2 to 5 weekend kicked off Thursday with a trio of celebrity winemaker dinners at Seagar’s, Café Thirty-A, and The Wine Bar at WaterColor. Friday evening moved the party to the WaterColor Beach Club for an al fresco reserve tasting.
The star of any wine festival, though, is always the grand tasting. For this first annual event, 62 beverage purveyors – everything from wine to spirits to beer – and an assortment of culinary creators offered their wares along WaterColor’s Cerulean Park.
“You start with this mental visualization of what it’s going to look like and how it’s going to flow, but we’d never done it there before. It worked! It worked really well!” Russell said after the proverbial dust settled. “We’ve done Seeing Red for a number of years, so we had a pretty good idea of a lot of the pieces, but when you up and move it to another location, it presents its own set of challenges.”
Over at table 33, Armen Khachaturian represented Clos Du Val, one of the wineries committed to returning for the South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival next April.
“It’s a great charity,” Khachaturian said, while pouring the 2015 Estate Pinot Noir and the 2014 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. “Our winemaker Ted Henry has been a friend of the folks out here running the festival. We were at the reserve tasting last night and the crowd response was fantastic. We’re glad to be here.”
Across the courtyard, Mary Joli had samples from Willamette Valley Vineyards, including three pinot noirs, a very crisp pinot gris and an ice-cold dry Riesling.
“We’re very much attached to the Destin area and the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation – we’re big supporters of that,” Joli said. “Whenever they throw a festival, we like to be involved. If they’ll have me, I’ll be there!”
More than just a meal
New to the SoWal wine festival scene, Harvest offered more than a scattering of food tents, but instead debuted three larger culinary zones – complete with live demonstrations.
“We wanted it to be more engaging and a little more focused on the style of food,” Russell explained. “You could really have these great one-on-one conversations and of course we’re supporting local businesses. I thought it was really special.”
“The Gulf” featured fresh tastes from Brotula’s Seafood House and Steamer, and Jackacudas Seafood + Sushi – both of Destin. Christopher Shea, executive sushi chef at Jackacudas, walked the crowd through breaking down a whole tuna loin into tuna steaks, nigiri, sashimi, and spicy tuna.
“A lot of people think the skin is trash, but it all can be used,” Shea admitted. “I showed people how to use every bit of the tuna and get as much for their buck as they can.”
“The Barbecue Pit” offered samples from the new Back Beach Barbecue out of Panama City Beach, including brisket sliders with caramelized onions and chimichurri sauce, brisket chili, hardwood-smoked chicken wings tossed in an Alabama white sauce, and a cole slaw-topped smoked pulled pork sandwich. Pitmaster Shane Kirkland gave a live demonstration, answering questions from the audience.
“The Market” provided space for more artisanal foodstuffs from the likes of Destin Ice Market 30A, 30A Olive Oil, Busy Corner Cheese and Provision, and Mano’s Authentic Healthy Food. Honey Hutch paired their honey with bread from Grayton Beach’s Black Bear Bread Co.
Russell said they raised $83,000 from the on-site silent auction alone – a major increase from the $34,000 raised at last year’s festival auction. Once again, Chan’s Wine World set up a retail tent, allowing guests to take home bottles of all their favorites. A VIP experience featured food from Cuvée Kitchen + Wine Bar and Restaurant Paradis.
The weekend concluded with a Sunday Bubbles Brunch at Bijoux.