Join the Sinfonia Gulf Coast for A Mad Hatter’s Garden Party
By Zandra Wolfgram
Visitors to February’s “Mad Hatter’s Garden Party” along the pristine shores of Northwest Florida are sure to escape down the rabbit hole at this year’s Sinfonia Gulf Coast Wine Women & Shoes charity event.
The must-not-miss extravaganza is an artful weekend-long celebration of wine, fashion and food benefiting Sinfonia Gulf Coast — the only fully professional non-profit orchestra on the Emerald Coast. The symphony was founded in 2005 by music and artistic director Demetrius Fuller.
Wine Women & Shoes is one of the fastest-growing event series in the country. Elaine Honig, a scion of the prominent California wine-producing family, created the event, inspired by the classic country ballad “Wine, Women and Song.” Now in its 11th year, the Wine Women & Shoes team has produced more than 220 events, raising more than $37 million for various non-profits nationwide.
As is tradition, the weekend kicks off on Friday evening with a series of seven Vintner Dinners held in luxury homes, hotels and upscale restaurants along the Emerald Coast. “Celebrity” chefs include Nikhil Abuvala, Roux 30A; Jack McGuckin, Bijoux; Dan Vargo, Seagar’s; Kevin Korman, Roselie; Chris Holbrook, 30A Signature Catering; Michael Katz, The Henderson and Jim Richard, Stinky’s Fish Camp/Trebeaché. They will be paired with featured wineries including Hourglass, Ancien, Blackbird Vineyards, Sanglier, Eric Kent Wines, Silver Trident Winery and St. Helena Winery.
The event is a favorite for one of its longtime hostess. “It just so much fun to introduce neighbors and friends. There are probably 20 couples who have met at my house and have become dear friends, and it’s all as a result of Wine Women & Shoes,” says Demetria McNeese, who connected Sinfonia Gulf Coast to the Wine Women & Shoes event in Northwest Florida. “It’s fun to share an evening with like minds who also want to support their community and who love to enjoy good wine and food and fellowship.”
McNeese, who hails from Destin, served as the event chair for the first couple of years and now sits on the planning committee. A dynamic entrepreneur and patron of the arts, McNeese is also president and founder of McNeese Distributing, a North Florida-based wine distributor of small production boutique wines and vice president of McNeese Title, LLC.
The fun factor steps up on Saturday with Bubbles, Brews & Culinary Qs held at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa in Miramar Beach, Florida. Guests will sip sparkling wines at the Bubbles Bar, locally crafted micro brews and ales by Grayton Beer Company and tuck into delicious barbecue-inspired light bites while enjoying live music performed by the funky blues fusion local favorite, Dread Clampitt.
On Sunday afternoon “sole sisters” and “sole mates” kick up their heels at the Hilton during the Signature Event, which has become the see-and-be-seen soiree of the season. The lively event — filled with wine and food tastings, retail shopping and live music performances — centers on a high-energy fashion show by Today’s Boutique of Destin and crescendos with a live auction of high-end lots of reserve wine, artful excursions, luxury travel trips and the like. McNeese assures there are “fresh surprises” each year. New this year is a Shoe Box Pull. For a donation of $50 guests can select a wrapped shoebox filled with something fabulous valued between $50 and $1000. Also debuting this year are a treasure trove of national retailers, including Love Thirteen (San Diego), F&W Style (Atlanta), Ty Park Candles (Augusta, Ga.) and Fair Portia (Olympia, Wa.) — who are venturing to the coast to sell their boutique wares at the event.
A “best shoe” contest is a kick each year, but this year in keeping with the “Mad Hatter” theme, the crowning glory just may be the “best hat” competition.
As passionate as she is about wine, McNeese is even more so about children and education, which is at the heart of the event’s charity. Before relocating the Gulf Coast, McNeese ran a music production company in Nashville, where she witnessed the power of music first hand.
“I saw how music has helped children, and I saw kids turn to music as a safe harbor,” she said. “Sinfonia’s music education programs ties into my passion and desire to keep music in the schools. I support a lot of causes, but there’s none that I give the time and attention that I give Sinfonia. It’s that important to me.”
McNeese and many other local business leaders and music-loving volunteers like her are making a noticeable difference. Proceeds from the event benefit Sinfonia and its music education programs, which include musicians/guest artists in schools, free orchestra concerts, bus transportation for students, the Sinfonia Youth Orchestra program, an Arts in Medicine initiative with Sacred Heart Hospital and LINK UP concerts with third through fifth graders in partnership with Carnegie Hall.
Founder and Music Director Demetrius Fuller, says Sinfonia’s Wine Women & Shoes event “has enabled our organization to increase the capacity of its music education initiatives by more than 300 percent over the last two years. It is truly humbling to see the continued and growing support for Sinfonia and Wine Women & Shoes and that our patrons realize that they are putting their best foot forward to make this happen.”
Save the Date
Friday, Feb. 17, 6 p.m.
Tickets: $275 per person (Includes all food, wine and gratuities.)
Greg Lala & Yvonne King – Sandestin
Chef: Jim Richard, Stinky’s Fish Camp & Trebeaché
Vintner: Sanglier Cellars
Winery: Glenn Alexander, winemaker/owner
Janis & Don Bishop – Shalimar, Fla.
Chef: Nikhil Abuvala, Roux30A
Vintner: St. Helena Winery
Winery: Lesley Russell, General Manager
Seagar’s Prime Steak & Seafood – Miramar Beach, Fla.
Chef: Dan Vargo, Seagar’s
Vintner: Blackbird Vineyards
Winery: Michael Polenske, owner
Bijoux Restaurant + Spirits – Miramar Beach, Fla.
Chef: Jack McGuckin, Bijoux
Vintner: Eric Kent Wine Cellars
Winery: Kent Humphrey
Christine Carter & Ken Bryant – Destin, Fla.
Chef: Chris Holbrook, 30A Signature Catering/Bellamy
Winery: Jean Miller
The Henderson, A Salamander Spa & Beach Resort – Destin, Fla.
Chef: Michael Katz, The Henderson
Winery: Ian Fenwick, General Manager
Churchill Oaks – Santa Rosa Beach, Fla.
Chef: Kevin Korman, Roselie Dining + Seafood Bar
Vintner: Silver Trident Winery
Winery: Shane Soldinger
Bubbles, Brews & Culinary Qs
Saturday, Feb. 18, 4-6 p.m.
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, Miramar Beach
Tickets are $35 per person.
Wine Women & Shoes Signature Event
Sunday, Feb. 19, 2-5 p.m.
Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa, Miramar Beach
Tickets are $100 per person (includes all food, wine, reserved table seating and valet parking).
For more event details and to purchase tickets
to all or any combination of Sinfonia Gulf Coast’s
Wine Women & Shoes events online,
visit www.sinfoniagulfcoast.org or call (850) 460-8800.
Shop & Stay Package
Enjoy a $50 gift card to Silver Sands Premium Outlets when you stay at Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa. Rooms are from $119 per night. Enter event code: WWS. Call (850) 267-9500.