SoWal Wine: Time to shine!

By Michelle Farnham
May 2, 2023

MIRAMAR BEACH – It was the best of weather, it was the worst of weather, but it all worked out in the end. The four-day extravaganza known as the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival shined brightly, despite a thunderstorm that delayed the start of Saturday’s grand tasting.

Friday fun

Friday night fun

After starting the weekend off at Thursday’s Winemakers & Shakers event at Destin’s Wine World, Friday’s Craft Beer + Spirits Jam filled the streets of Grand Boulevard, to the beat of DJ Pinke. A stroll down Spirits Row offered sips from the likes of Mt. Gay Rum, Monkey Shoulder Scotch, Basil Hayden and Cape Fear Distillery. Step into the Beer Tent for a taste of local breweries Odd Pelican, Idyll Hounds, St. Michael’s Brewery and Destin Brewery.

Grayton Beach’s Beach Camp Brewpub GM Daniel Straub and Brewmaster Will Dargavell were on hand, pouring their Dank Sinatra, the High Tide Hefe, the recently bottled Barrel-Aged Stout and the Cato West Coast Hazy IPA.

“They’ve all been really popular tonight, but the Hefeweizen is really good, it’s our year-round wheat-style beer,” Straub said about South Walton’s newest brewery. “This event has been great, I love it!”

Ticket-holders had a chance to meet celebrity guests such as Victoria Eady Butler, master blender of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey; Darryl McNally, master distiller of Limavady Irish Whiskey; and Greg Metze, master distiller of Old Elk Distillery.

Nosh Pavilions dotted the festival grounds, featuring eats like crawfish étouffée from The Perfect Pig, catfish tacos from Freddie’s Southern Eats, and the award-winning gumbo from Slick Lips Seafood & Oyster House.

Grand indeed!

Grand Tastings

Saturday and Sunday’s grand tastings brought wine to the table, such as Willamette Valley Vineyards, Blind Tasting Chardonnay, and an entire tent of Jackson Family Wines.

French Pool Toy, maker of a French rosé served in an unbreakable plastic bottle, was poured by company founder Martin Lartigua Jr.

Guests could sit in on one of four tasting seminars, including the Sensory Exploration of Food & Wine with Jackson Family Wine, and a focus on chianti by Marchesi Antinori.

Charleston Beverage Company presented “The Perfect Bloody Mary” by company founder Ryan Eleuteri, who explained the rocky road to becoming the third best-selling mix in the nation, and offered up his preferences for best garnishes.

“The industry really went crazy there for a while with the cheeseburgers, fried chicken,” Eleuteri admitted. “For me personally, I like to do an Old Bay seasoned rim, a pickled okra, blue cheese-stuffed olive, maybe a shrimp.”

Charleston brand manager Bobby Brown explained the method to the madness of garnishes.

“Bloody Marys are typically spicy, so you balance that with celery,” Brown explained. “It has a cooling effect and adds to the fragrance. Lemon or lime – it doesn’t matter which – adds citrus and brightness, which will also cut through the heat while making it a more refreshing experience. And bacon, well bacon is delicious, and it brings out the salty, savory umami flavors.”

Brown also suggested using infused vodka, bloody Mary mix ice cubes, and to “gently roll” the drink, rather than shaking or stirring it.

A thirst for knowledge

There was something for the bourbon drinkers in the house at the Garrison Brothers Distillery, presentation by Master Distiller Donnis Todd.

He offered tasters of his small batch, single barrel cask, Guadalupe and Cowboy bourbons – all made at their ranch in Texas – and explained the proper way to “nose” distilled spirits.

“This is not like smelling wine. You put the bourbon glass along your nose but only breath in through your mouth,” Todd advised. “If you get any sinus burn, you haven’t mastered that yet. If you do it properly, you literally can taste it and it sets the stage.

Wine World Culinary Village featured small plates like braised Spanish octopus with tabouli salad, smoked salmon canapés and French lemon tarts for something sweet. The Nosh Pavilions served up bruschetta and cannoli from Grimaldi’s Pizzeria, smoked tuna dip from Barefoot’s Bar & Grill, and of course, sushi by Yoshi Eddings of Harbor Docks.

A little something to nosh

The South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival is a fundraiser for the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, which takes place concurrently on the festival grounds. Read 30A Food & Wine’s coverage of the annual auction here.

Photos by Michelle Farnham