by Gabi Garrett

As the sunset painted the sky shades of purple and orange hues, South Walton locals and visitors alike gathered on a postcard perfect Friday night for an event to remember. It was a balmy November evening on the deck overlooking the Gulf at WaterColor Inn, and the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (DCWAF) kicked off the inaugural Harvest Wine & Food Festival.

The new festival provided attendees the opportunity to sip and savor some of the world’s finest wine and culinary selections, while enjoying tasty eats and the cozy village of WaterColor.

Patrons of the festival and the silent auction help to support DCWAF, which broke tradition this year to also raise funds for the wine industry in Napa and Sonoma Counties that were affected by the recent wildfires. 

Founded in 2005 and currently ranked #3 on Wine Spectator Magazine’s “Top Charity Wine Auctions in the US,” DCWAF has donated more than $15 million to Northwest Florida charities by hosting world class wine and culinary events. These funds have impacted the lives of over 90,000 youth, including those afflicted by health issues and abuse.

DCWAF’s Harvest Wine & Food Festival, a four-day event, began on Thursday, November 2nd with a variety of celebrity winemaker dinners, which were hosted at various local restaurants in South Walton, including Cafe Thirty-A, The WineBar at WaterColor, and Seagar’s Prime Steaks & Seafood.

Friday evening, guests were presented an opportunity to sample a selection of reserve wines and light bites. The high-end wine selection included favorites such as Rombauer Cabernet. My guest and I enjoyed Red Thread Wine Company and the Gamble Family Vineyards.

The relaxed atmosphere lent itself to chatting with festival goers at a high top table while savoring a generous pour. As for tasty bites in-between sips, WaterColor Inn provided an excellent spread for the evening. Their cheese and charcuterie table was adorned with a variety of hummus selections, delicious jams, baked breads, crackers, fruits, and vegetables. The chef also prepared a variety of small bites: crispy jerk chicken with pineapple mango and cilantro jam, pinot noir braised short ribs, and delightful pumpkin mousse cups.

Following the event, we stopped into the Wine Bar at WaterColor, as sometimes too much of a good thing is just enough. This restaurant was central to both locations of the festival, and provided the opportunity to grab a full glass of wine along with dinner after Friday night’s noshes. The wine bar is known for a wide variety of wine selections at various price points and delicious cheese and charcuterie boards. With so many delightful cheeses at the festival, we decide to lighten it up and ordered a flatbread for sharing at the table.

Saturday morning, we awoke to a spectacular sunrise that only the gorgeous skies of 30A could provide, and headed to yoga at Balance Health Studio followed by a long walk on the beach. After our morning activities, we enjoyed breakfast at The Perfect Pig in Gulf Place. Avocado toast for me, the vegetarian, and a big ole’ pork biscuit for the carnivore.

At 1:00 p.m., it was time to check in at the Grand Tasting held at Cerulean Park. This day-time event featured over 400 wines, spirits and craft beers, all paired with a wide selection of scrumptious bites.

Attendees also had access to the many participating expert wine purveyors, like Mark Ballard from BNA Wines, who shared, “Wine is very similar to real estate – location, location, location!

Ballard suggested that if you’ve never been to a wine tasting before to pick something you think you like – for example, a cabernet, and to try several from multiple regions. At the end of the day, you might leave with the awareness that you like a cabernet from Sonoma valley with certain characteristics, a strategy that will help you order wine from a restaurant or for your home collection.

“A lot of people come in and try everything. I recommend digging through your tasting guide first. If you really want to educate yourself, you may want to make a round tasting only whites, then perhaps move into a red. You will not end up with the best results continuously going from white to red,” Ballard further explained.

The Saturday scenery in Cerulean Park was just as captivating as the evening prior, but in a whole new fashion. Tables around the festival were adorned with touches of fall, like sunflowers with pops of orange and brown.

The rustic elegance allowed patrons to relax at the community style tables, find their own high top island, or sit picnic style in the grassy areas of the park. Since the samplings were set up in a semi-circle, attendees had ample opportunity over the three hours to explore the tasting guide to the fullest.

Ron Cekot, from Channel 9 shared, “This is the best venue I’ve ever been to, in all of the festivals I’ve covered. The location was a fabulous selection, complete with shaded areas.”

As visitors perused the circle that is Cerulean Park, they were met by beer, wine, and liquor distributors ready to pour a taste of their creations. There were also multiple opportunities to taste food from all avenues, and to find plenty of water to rinse out the keepsake wine glass, or to stay hydrated. Local artwork stationed throughout the area added to the unique 30A vibe.

Throughout the event, there were also cooking demonstrations provided by top restaurants from Destin to 30A that included Cuvee Kitchen + Wine BarJackacudas Seafood & Sushi, Brotula’s Seafood House & Steamer, Restaurant Paradis, and Back Beach Barbeque.

Upscale treats were provided, along with artisan creations from Busy Corner Cheese and Provision, homemade honey from the Honey Hutch, and light flavors from Mano’s Authentic Healthy Food, and 30A Olive Oil.

The festival concluded with an opportunity to brunch Sunday morning at Bijoux located at The Market Shops in Miramar Beach with 10% of the proceeds donated to DCWAF’s efforts.

Festivals, like the Harvest Wine & Food event, are a fantastic way to explore 30A with new eyes.  You can sample multiple restaurants at one time, meet the locals, and make new friends.

If you’ve never been to the cozy row of beach towns that dot Florida’s Scenic Highway 30A, I highly recommend exploring them. Here are two key tips of the trade to start your next adventure:

On Your Way In From The West:

Just forty-five minutes shy of your 30A destination, I suggest a relaxing detour to The Gulf Okaloosa Island. This restaurant sits at the waters edge on the bay. One look at its outdoor seating, and you’ll know why it’s worth the stop. This locale is great for artisan style beach eats created by Top Chef contestant Wesley True and team, and you won’t find a more delicious mojito.

The Gulf’s menu changes daily to adjust to the offerings of the local farms, and the ever changing seafood climate. Though the selections are comparable to upscale beach food, nothing on the menu tops $20.00. This atmosphere provides perfect instagrammable moments, entertainment for guests, and the entire property is recyclable, including their serving utensils.

We enjoyed the smoked tuna dip, mini crab cakes, crispy fried chicken, a quinoa and wheat berry salad, as well as the hummus plate.  If in a hurry to get to your destination you can order your food and drinks self service and be on your own version of island time.

Pro Tip:

If staying in a beach home or condo, order your groceries via Instacart. We utilized the service powered from Santa Rosa Beach’s Publix, and had our beer, wine, and snacks waiting for us when we checked in at Gulf Place.

So, pack your bags, come hungry, and prepare for an adventure of a lifetime along the Gulf Coast of Florida. Whether next year’s festival will be your first visit to 30A, or your fifteenth, I’m confident you with find a memory worth savoring.

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Tickets to Friday’s February 2nd Tasting Of Champions | Hilton Sandestin here

Tickets to South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival April 26-29 | Grand Boulevard Town Center, Sandestin here

Tickets Destin Charity Wine Auction | Information

Save the date: Harvest Wine & Food – October 25-28, 2018 | WaterColor, Florida – Tickets on Sale July 1st 

 

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