I can’t say I made it to (or even heard about) the first-ever Sandestin Wine Festival, staged then as now at the Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort on the emerald waters of the Gulf of Mexico. But I’ve followed its progress ever since, and even judged its red wines one icy winter day some years ago, when the judges kept busy daring each other to step outside into the wind. This weekend’s lovely spring weather full of warm sunshine and cool breeze helped the festival celebrate its 25th birthday.
As before, there were plenty of terrific red wines, gathered together with a boost from event founder Chan Cox, who owns a thriving retail wine business on the Emerald Coast. Yet with the bright sun and the suggestion of summer heat, there was a certain magnetism drawing celebrants to the event’s chilled white wines. What the folks at Spec’s back in Texas like to call “summertime wines for by the pool” proved very popular.
Unlike some “wine and food festivals” in places like Austin and Sugar Land – or indeed like the New Orleans Wine & Food Experience from which both learned a trick or two – the Sandestin Wine Festival is what it says. Still, each year (happily) features some kind of food presence, such as this weekend’s focus on Spain. This Destin area chef is whipping up a batch of paella.
One of the joys of a wine festival anywhere is learning about the making and selling of wine directly from those who do it for a living. The first-ever Sandestin event featured Peter Mondavi, whose father of the same name provided the vision behind Charles Krug. Now, 25 years later, Peter’s brother Marc did the honors – leading a tasting of some of Charles Krug’s best vintages.
With so much wine to taste, you gotta eat, right? – and that might well mean a grazing trip out along the area’s lovely beachside Highway 30A past stunning communities like Seaside. But it should also mean dinner at Sandestin’s own Finz Restaurant on the beach. If it’s Florida and you’re near water, you need to enjoy anything that goes by the name grouper, such as this creation by young and talented Finz executive chef Justin Stark.
And of course, this being Destin, at least once a day you have to find your way to someplace with a view of the gorgeous sunset. There are bells rung in some places and cannons fired at others; but really, there isn’t anything you can fire or bang on that equals what Mother Nature has up her sleeve. This is a beautiful piece of the American tapesty – and with Southwest’s new nonstop flights from Houston, the Sandestin Wine Festival is a great excuse to come enjoy it.