Home > Blog > April 2017 > The Emerald Coast's Obsession with Wine - Wine Festivals

The Emerald Coast's Obsession with Wine - Wine Festivals


Today's blog is the first of a three part series that includes excerpts from Newman-Dailey Resort Properties Where you'd rather Be Magazine. Part I features the early days of wine consumption in Destin, dating back to 1971, and focuses on the impact South Walton wine festivals have had on our wine culture and appreciation for wine.  

The History
How did a once sleepy fishing village become one of the most recognized regions for wine consumption in the U.S.? The story begins with a charismatic man named Chan Cox.  

Cox went to school at Troy University, and after graduation, he took a job with a wholesale distributor in Pensacola in 1971. With only a few restaurants in Northwest Florida offering a wine list, his territory spanned from Pensacola to Panama City Beach.

"Today, 25 wine representatives serve my original territory,” said Cox. “Back then, my number one selling item was MD 20/20. Then, Boone’s Farm came out. It was sweet, easy to drink. Since Boone’s Farm was owned by Gallo, the brand benefited from great marketing. People started drinking more wine.” 
“The public wanted something besides bourbon and beer,” continued Cox. “Then came gateway wines such as Beringer White Zin, Glenn Ellen Reserve Chardonnay and Kendall Jackson.”

As a vacation destination, the Emerald Coast also benefited from visitors who had been exposed to different types of wine during their travels.  A wine culture began to develop, which was propelled by wine festivals and a growing culinary scene.

"The first wine festival was 1986,” said Cox. “I was told Peter Mondavi was visiting the area. My Mom and sister had a café at the Market Shops at Sandestin so we hosted the region’s first wine festival there. Tickets were $5.

"Hardly anyone came,” recalls Cox. “But it started raining, bringing the Louisiana Bar Association meeting attendees off the beach and to the wine festival. It was the perfect storm.”

Wine Festivals—A Game Changer

Mondavi’s visit to the region was just the beginning. Cox continued hosting the Sandestin Wine Festival at the Market Shops at Sandestin, and a few years later, the Merchants of Seaside were looking for the perfect fall event. Scott Witcoski, co-founder of Bud & Alley's, thought that it would be unique to have a wine festival devoted solely to red wine. Scott presented the idea to the merchants in Seaside, and the Seeing Red Wine Festival was born.

"It was truly a grassroots event created by and organized by merchant owners in town," said Dave Rauschkolb, co-founder and owner of Bud & Alley’s. "The wine festival always kicks off with the Thursday night winemaker’s dinner at Bud & Alley's. The second Seeing Red Wine Festival dinner featured winemaker, Robert Mondavi and Chef Lydia Bastianich. With headliners like that the Seeing Red Wine Festival was an instant success."

As the festivals continued to grow and evolve so did the culinary scene. Talented chefs were moving their families to the area to enjoy the Destin and 30A lifestyle. James Beard Foundation and Florida Trend Golden Spoon reviewers were taking notice of area chefs and restaurants, which were focusing on innovative coastal dishes created from fresh, local ingredients.
“We were getting good restaurants,” said Cox. “Restaurants including Criolla’s, Bud & Alley’s, and Café Thirty-A were adding wine lists. A micro-wine culture was forming.”
The Sandestin Wine Festival and Seeing Red Wine Festival continued to expand in recognition and scope. After 19 years, the Sandestin Wine Festival outgrew its home at the Market Shops and moved to the Village of Baytowne Wharf at Sandestin. That same year, Cox added an auction component.
“After attending the Atlanta Wine Auction at the High Museum of Art, that year, we added an auction during the Friday Wine Walkabout that was part of the festival and donated $25,000 to Mattie Kelly Arts Foundation,” said Cox. “The second year we were ready to step it up. We started a 501c(3), formed a board and started the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation.” 
“We raised $250,000 the first year and $800,000 in year two!” exclaimed Cox. “This is a tribute to the outstanding board of directors. It was great for the charities and the children.” 
This year, Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation (DCWAF) is celebrating its 12th auction and is ranked among the top 10 wine auctions in the country by Wine Spectator. The auction has raised more than $13 million year-to-date to help children in need in Northwest Florida. 

“Over the years, the Destin Charity Wine Auction has become known as ‘The wine lovers wine auction,’” said DCWAF President John Russell. “We have been fortunate in that we have grown not only in the contributions we have made, but also in our reputation for excellence. This has permitted us to increase our outreach to more than 75,000 youth. We are able to provide funds so that these organizations can focus on improving the lives of children instead of fundraising.”
South Walton’s beach communities have been a strong driver in the expansion of the festival landscape. Rosemary Beach launched the Uncorked Wine Festival in the fall, and Alys Beach hosts the 30A Wine Festival each spring. Sandestin Wine Festival continues in the Village of Baytowne Wharf, and Chan Cox has continued his festival, which was rebranded in 2013 as the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival. Held at Grand Boulevard at Sandestin in conjunction with the Destin Charity Wine Auction the last weekend of April, the South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival now features more than 800 wines, celebrity winemakers, distillers, chefs, brew masters and Nashville Songwriters.  
As the number of wine events and caliber of wines poured continues to elevate, Northwest Florida is gaining increased notoriety within the wine industry.
“Wine festivals have definitely propelled us. It is incredible to see the level of interest from winemakers who want to come (to our festivals). Napa knows us now,” said Chef Tim Creehan, long-time restaurateur, owner of Cuvee 30A and DCWAF supporter.

Emerald Coast Wine Festivals
February - Wine, Women & Shoes at Sandestin

March - 30A Wine Festival at Alys Beach

April - Sandestin Wine Festival, Sandestin
South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival, Sandestin
Destin Charity Wine Auction, Sandestin

October - Uncorked, Rosemary Beach

November - Harvest Wine & Food Festival
Seeing Red Wine Festival, Seaside

December -Sparkling Wine & Holiday Lights at Sandestin 

Next, we'll feature Part II in the series: Wine on the Menu. 

In the meantime, we invite you plan your next vacation to the Emerald Coast. View our premier South Walton and Destin vacation rentals online or call one of our friendly vacation specialists at 1-800-225-7652.

See you @ the beach!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

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