30A Wine Festival: Carnival!
Grand Tasting fills Alys Beach with color
By Michelle Farnham
Feb. 28, 2023
ALYS BEACH – Mardi Gras rolled through town last week, but there was still plenty of celebration at the Carnival-themed 30A Wine Festival Grand Tasting, held Feb. 25 along South Charles Street.
Vibrant Brazilian decor stood out among the stark white architecture synonymous with Alys Beach. Complete with traditional music and dancers, many of the restaurants presented dishes in keeping with the evening’s theme.
The Alys Beach Culinary Team, for example, served Brazilian seafood stew and picanha skewers, which Executive Chef Drew Dzejak was grilling and carving on-site.
“We got the steak picante, done on the traditional skewers, as well as some lovely beef fat roasted potatoes to go with it,” Dzejak said, adding he thought the venue was looking particularly colorful and festive.
Neighboring George’s at Alys Beach was also in attendance at the sold-out event, including a pork belly tostada and a vegan lettuce wrap.
“We toss mushrooms in a teriyaki-style sauce with bourbon in it, and garnish it with toasted cashews, crispy shallots and pickled red cabbage,” explained Executive Chef Camille Withall, while refilling plates. “I love this festival, bringing people together. It shows the community and it’s a good time.”
In addition to other local vendors like Black Bear Bread Co., The Salty Butcher, Pescado and 2 Birds Café, festival organizers brought in talent from outside the state. Chef Scott Simpson of The Depot out of Auburn, Ala., was serving Baja tuna tartare sushi bowls and Gulf seafood paella. Hailing from Cleveland Heights in the Buckeye state, Farmer’s Feast served a rillette of Ohio chicken with crisp rice; and sausage, pickled cabbage and potato crisp on a baguette.
Of course it wouldn’t be a wine festival without the wine, and ticket-holders could sample vintages from the likes of Soter Vineyards, La Grande Sieste, Thompson 31Fifty Wines, La Fete Wine Co., and Finca Ambrosia, to name a few.
The stroll down Charles Street concluded with a cocktail station, pouring mixed drinks using Leyenda de México tequila, Campesino Rum, Vulanica Vodka, and Wonderland Distilling Gin.
First-time attendee Joanna Thomas was in awe of the festivities.
“This is just tremendous; we’re having such a wonderful time!” she said, gesturing around. “The wine is exquisite, the food is delicious, I love the Brazilian dancers, and of course the venue here in Alys Beach is unmatched.”
The Grand Tasting is part of the five-day 30A Wine Festival extravaganza, including speciality dinners and seminars; Bourbon, Beer & Butts; the Gospel Brunch; and the Rose & Croquet tournament. The weekend benefits the Children’s Volunteer Health Network, providing affordable healthcare to children in need throughout Okaloosa and Walton counties.
Photos by Michelle Farnham