A five-hour drive southbound from Atlanta, through the green pastures of the northern tip of Florida, lies the Emerald Coast city of Sandestin, Fla. Its white sugar-sand beaches on the backdrop of the beautiful water provide a favorite getaway for many in the state of Georgia, including Savannah's Paula Deen, a headliner at the city’s recent 27th annual Wine Festival.
The annual event was held from April 18 to 20 this year, during an unseasonably chilly weekend in Florida, and was hosted by the Sandestin Gold and Beach Resort at The Village of Baytowne Wharf. It's a hodge-podge of fun, including a plethora of white tents under which vintners and distributors showcase their wines amid lots of good food and live music.
Deen's appearance at the festival was certainly a highlight of the event. While America at large continues to treasure her for her Southern style of preparing outrageously delicious, finger-licking-good food, there's nothing like an up-close-and-personal experience with Deen. During the Sandestin Wine Festival, she, along with husband Mike and her team, showed up at a special cooking tent. There, while her husband cooked, Deen held court in the audience, keeping everyone — herself included — laughing and feeling great.
Several of Sandestin's finest (including Deen) showed up for a Saturday brunch. The meal began with a lump crabcake Benedict, followed by a show-stopping fried green tomato with crawfish and crab. Next came smoked Gouda grits with shrimp and scallops, and then the finale: grouper. Each of the dishes was prepared by one of the restaurants in The Village of Baytowne Wharf. As the area is surrounded by water, the fish is always fresh, but there was no way to pull off a meal this good without some amazing chefs to make it happen, all of whom were local.
While much can be said about the opportunity to meet the many winemakers at the festival, taste their wines, and visit the retail tent for purchases in between food breaks, all in a bustling bayside environment of nonstop entertainment and shopping, the fact that it all takes place on a peninsula separating the beautiful waters of the Gulf of Mexico and the Choctawhatchee Bay makes it all the more special. The vibe throughout the laid-back, well-kept beach community is very reminiscent of what you might expect from a small fishing village.
Whether you're in it for the wine, the food, or simply the fun, the Sandestin Wine Festival is definitely an event worth attending. No wonder it's lasted for 27 years and counting!