story by Liesel Schmidt
Running from April 11 through the 14, the 33rd annual Sandestin Wine Festival is a highly anticipated event that draws so many vendors, attractions, and festival goers that it’s been hailed as the “Kentucky Derby of Wine Festivals,” deserving of much fanfare and expectation. And though one might easily presume it to be largely a local attraction, the scale—not to mention the renown of some of the chefs, vintners, and vineyards—have gained it a reputation as being one of the top wine festivals in the country, bringing in countless souls whose predilection for wine seems to ripen like grapes on the vine under the warmth of the Florida sun.
The full-bodiedness of the experience is a top priority at the wine festival, with no shortage of opportunities to taste, smell, sip, and savor provided at every turn as The Village of Baytowne Wharf becomes transformed to a veritable village of tents offering everything from cooking demonstrations by award-winning chefs and samples of delicious foods to wine tastings and informative presentations given by various wine experts and representatives from vineyards across the globe.
“One of the reasons that the wine festival is such a popular and highly-regarded event is that it brings together a wide range of unique experiences for all guests, regardless of whether or not they know much about wine,” says The Village of Baytowne Wharf Events Manager Leighann Elliott. Even still, one could hardly leave after the weekend without having learned something. “The sheer amount of expertise gathered here during the event is absolutely amazing, and that’s one of the things that really fortifies the festival as a draw for people who truly love wine and want to know more about what they’re tasting and what makes the quality wines stand out.”
Departing a bit from the grappa but still kicking things off in high spirits, the festival begins with a party hosted by Rum Runners and Timber Creek Distillery, the Emerald Coast’s only local distillery. Guests will have the chance to sample some of Rum Runners’ best eats as well as a special tasting by Timber Creek Distillery highlighting a selection of their top craft cocktails and mixed drinks.
For those with a desire to try new things, the daily wine tastings are a must, as the events feature pourings of more than five hundred domestic and international wines as well as a rare opportunity to learn about the finest vintages and varietals from major producing countries. Perfectly pairing with the sips being offered, Savor South Walton tents scattered throughout the grounds offer samplings from acclaimed local restaurants that showcase the culinary talents of some of the area’s best chefs.
Keeping things flowing and feeling effervescent with excitement, the Bubbly & Boozy tent on the Grand Sandestin Lawn features champagne and sparkling wines, specialty liquors, and a wide array of luxurious desserts set to the soundtrack of local bands and regional artists playing hits all weekend long. “This festival really is a picture-perfect event,” says Elliott.
Getting in on the perfection, various restaurants throughout Baytowne set the table for dinners hosted by winemakers whose selections pair with menus created specially for the festival; and each day during the event, the ABC retail tent offers the opportunity to purchase any of the domestic and international wines featured during the tastings at special event pricing.
From first sip to last, the Sandestin Wine Festival is a yearly event worth savoring—and they keep pouring it on.