Food and wine festivals in the Southeast are hotter than a cast iron skillet full of corn bread. “We are witnessing a proliferation of festivals in the South and across the nation,” says John T. Edge, director of the Southern Foodways Alliance in Oxford, Mississippi.
Of southern-specific festivals, white-hot Atlanta chef Kevin Gillespie says, “The food and wine festivals in the South give a rare opportunity to witness what we’re all about.”
Each weekend has its own flavor, but all of them have key ingredients that typically include a “grand tasting,” with tapas-like tastes of food and beverages, special multi-course restaurant dinners (often with visiting guest chefs), seminars and tastings and charity fund-raising through ticket sales. Events often sell out quickly, making packages that include accommodations and tickets—often including “sold out” events—popular and well-priced.
Here are ten top personally experienced and recommended food and wine festivals in the region. They are arranged chronologically for 2013:
*Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival presented by FOOD & WINE: It’s see and be seen at this mouthful of an event, with this year’s version including culinary luminaries like Emeril Lagasse, Bobby Flay, Guy Fieri and Martha Stewart. February, www.sobefest.com
*Charleston Wine + Food Festival: Charming Charleston takes top billing as Thursday’s “Salute to Charleston’s Chefs: Opening Night Party” gives a taste of Charleston’s famed chefs and restaurants all in one place. Friday’s “Perfectly Paired Dinners” and other possibilities like Saturday’s “Waffle House Smackdown” and Sunday’s “Lowcountry Jazz Brunch” provide many reasons to stay for the entire tasty weekend. Two-night packages for two at four historic Charming Inns start at just $860 and at $888 in the DoubleTree by Hilton, including accommodations, varied event tickets (some to sold out events), and more. March, www.charlestonwineandfood.com
*Blue Ridge Wine & Food Festival: Set in the quaint North Carolina mountain town of Blowing Rock, the focus of this spring weekend is on local fare and drink, with a fresh twist for 2013 by way of Alaska. Friday’s popular “Grillin’ & Chillin’” event will again feature North Carolina barbecue, North Carolina wines and beers, and…Alaskan salmon, scallops, crab, and more through a new far-flung festival partner—the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute. April, www.blueridgewinefestival.com
*New Orleans Wine & Food Experience (NOWFE): Only New Orleans could have the “Royal Street Stroll,” when galleries open their doors for a taste of fine wines, antiques, art, live jazz and a parade by the colorful Krewe of Cork. Two “Grand Tastings” feature more than 75 chefs and 1,000-plus wines, as well as Saturday’s popular Louisiana Seafood Cook-Off. May, www.nowfe.com
*Atlanta Food & Wine Festival: “We are the only culinary weekend in the country focused exclusively on the South,” says co-founder Dominique Love. They lure more than 250 southern chefs, sommeliers, beverage innovators, pit masters and more to a long list of events, as well as having a little fun with the southern focus by including talent and products from other “southern” hotspots like Mexico, the Caribbean, South America, Southern Europe, South Africa and even Australia and New Zealand. “Festivals like Atlanta Wine and Food give people the opportunity to see southern chefs in their element doing their thing,” says Gillespie. June, www.atlfoodandwinefestival.com
*Asheville Wine & Food Festival: The searing hot destination dubbed “Foodtopia” and “Brewtopia” becomes even more of a foodie utopia come August, with a focus on western North Carolina chefs, restaurants, farmers, purveyors, breweries, distilleries and wineries. August, www.ashevillewineandfood.com
*Euphoria: Co-founded by Table 301 restaurateur Carl Sobocinski and rocker Edwin McCain, this unique weekend combines food,wine and music. Friday night’s “Taste of the South” highlights southern chefs and includes a headlining McCain show, while the more recently added “Sunday Night Supper” provides a reason to stay an extra night in revitalized downtown Greenville. With several Euphoria weekends and other festivals under his belt, Miller Union’s Steven Satterfield relates how much he enjoys the interaction with other chefs and inquisitive festival attendees, saying “The South’s food and wine festivals provide a great opportunity to work with and learn from other notable chefs in the region. The festivals also provide the opportunity to interface with consumers, see how they respond to what you are serving, and answer any questions guests have.” September, www.euphoriagreenville.com
*Epcot International Food & Wine Festival: This six-week-long festival features nearly 30 daily international and themed tasting marketplaces with tapas-sized tastes of food and beverages ($3-$8 last year). In addition, there are dozens of culinary demonstrations, wine and mixology seminars, dinners, “Eat to the Beat” concerts, and more. October-November, www.disneyworld.com
*TerraVITA Food & Wine Event: North Carolina’s Triangle region—and Chapel Hill specifically—is becoming known for its sustainability efforts through farmers, purveyors, chefs and restaurants. With educational events like the popular “Sustainable Classroom” sessions and “The Grand Tasting” featuring chefs, brewers, distillers, farmers, cheese makers and others, TerraVITA shows that successful sustainable local food and drink is more than just a tasty trend. November, www.terravitaevent.com
*Music To Your Mouth: Rounding out the foodie festival season at South Carolina’s Palmetto Bluff near Bluffton, this intimate taste of the Lowcountry attracts renowned chefs from nearby Charleston, as well as Atlanta and beyond. “What I have found so rewarding about southern-inspired festivals is the sense of community,” said Atlanta’s own Linton Hopkins of Restaurant Eugene fame (while serving up sorghum-glazed beef rib with carrot ash and sunchoke pickle to hungry fans of his food). November, www.musictoyourmouth.com