Where To Go: Sandestin Wine Festival

Sandestin’s Wine Festival—Cheers!

By Kathie Farnell

When planning a romantic getaway to the beach, “elegance” may not be the first word that comes to mind. Each Spring, though, visitors to Florida’s Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort can sample an event that combines pure luxury with sand and sea.

The Sandestin Wine Festival, now in its 26th year, invites lovers of fine wines and food to the resort’s picture-perfect pedestrian Village of Baytowne Wharf for three days of live music, cooking demonstrations, celebrity-watching and tasting of more than 600 wines. The atmosphere is upscale—Florida’s most-established wine event is known as the “Kentucky Derby of wine festivals.”  While there is absolutely no danger of encountering a horse, there are plenty of white tents and ladies strolling around in large hats.

The Wine Festival draws a springtime crowd. Photo credit; Jack Purser

Baytowne Wharf, one of Sandestin’s thirty neighborhoods, perches on the shore of Choctawhatchee Bay and is the ideal setting for sipping a glass of wine and exploring the area’s shops and restaurants.

The Village of Baytowne Wharf is an ideal spot for strolling. Photo credit: Jack Purser

On a beautiful weekend in April, the Village’s Events Plaza hosted a lively throng of wine fanciers for the Grand Wine Tasting. This is the festival’s big event—more than one hundred tents, all offering wine from around the world, and a retail tent in case you find the wine you can’t live without.

Where to begin? Jack and I opted for the shady side of the festival, exploring the tents lining the brick streets in front of the charming Market Street Inn. Here a festive crowd was steadily sipping its way through offerings from as far away as New Zealand. American wineries were also popular; Dane McFarlin of BNA Wine Group said that he was already sold out of his “Butternut” Chardonnay, adding that he credited the festival’s organization.“I’ve been to seven different trade shows, and this one is by the far the most professionally run.”

At the Classical Wines of Spain tent, Chris Massey noted that festivals like Sandestin’s are an opportunity to see how the public’s taste in wine develops: “Spanish wines have come into the mainstream, led by Grenache—but today people are finding their way to Tempranillo.”  As for Jack and me, after finding our way to Tempranillo, we were ready to find our way to some food.

Each year the Sandestin Wine Festival offers a culinary theme, and in 2012 the emphasis was on the Mediterranean. At the Culinary Pavilion, the crowd snacked on paella, cassoulet, and what I can personally attest were some dynamite cheeses. Meanwhile, Coastal Living Magazine presented cooking demonstrations from top area chefs on its Cooking Stage. The one-hour events featured a sample menu paired with wine and gave guests the opportunity to chill out and plot their next move.

For us, it was back to headquarters at the beachside Luau Towers, where our balcony featured a beautiful sunset view over white sand dunes to the Gulf.

Beachside Luau Towers provides a beautiful view of the Gulf. Photo credit: Jack Purser

Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort, located in Walton County just outside Destin, Florida, has been named the Number One resort on Florida’s Emerald Coast. A member of Visit South Walton, the resort includes more than 2400 acres on the Gulf of Mexico and Choctawhatchee Bay, along with tennis courts, swimming pools, a marina and fitness center, and four championship golf courses. For more information, check the website at

White sand beaches offer fun in the sun. Photo credit: Jack Purser

Top photo courtesy Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort.

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