Seeing Red Wine Festival Celebrates Twenty-Five Years in Seaside
By Susan Vallee
Photos by STM Photography
Since its inception two and a half decades ago, the Seeing Red Wine Festival in Seaside, Florida, has turned into an epic event. Tickets sell out within a day or two, more than two hundred wines are available for tasting, and three-hundred-dollar VIP tickets promise access to rare wines and a reserved tent experience unlike any other.
This festive favorite (among locals and visitors alike) is a far cry from the event’s humble beginnings in 1991. The owner of Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant (a Seaside staple for over thirty years now), Dave Rauschkolb, explains that the idea for the wine festival was born at a Seaside merchants’ meeting as the shop and restaurant owners discussed how the fall and winter months were not busy tourist times in the charming New Urbanist coastal community. The town practically closed down in the winter months back then, and it was creating a real problem for businesses.
“We had come together to brainstorm and to think of ways to get people to visit during those slow months,” Dave says. His business partner at the time, Scott Witcoski, suggested a wine festival to draw interest to the community. While everyone thought the idea had legs and several other business owners contributed ideas on how to pull the festival off, it was Scott who fell in love with the concept. Dave says Scott dived headlong into the idea—designing a festival poster, brainstorming ideas for music, and proposing ticket costs of ten dollars for advance tickets or twelve dollars at the gate.
“Everyone thought it was a great idea,” Dave says. “We all worked as a group to put it together. That’s how we did everything back then.”
That momentous first Seeing Red Wine Festival was held on October 12, 1991. Dave served as the official emcee, cracking jokes and keeping folks amused with the help of a microphone and a small speaker box. Cabana Man provided umbrellas for the amphitheater lawn, and local musical favorite Hubba Hubba performed. It wasn’t a huge affair, but people had fun, and lots of corks were twisted out of bottles that day. Word of mouth helped the festival grow in popularity over the years, and now wine lovers have to be quick to snag a ticket to one of the most beloved events on Scenic Highway 30-A.
This past November, Seaside held the Twenty-Fifth Annual Seeing Red Wine Festival, and it was a far cry from those early days of homeowners and friends enjoying bottles of wine underneath a few umbrellas on the amphitheater lawn.
Word of mouth helped the festival grow in popularity over the years, and now wine lovers have to be quick to snag a ticket to one of the most beloved events on Scenic Highway 30-A.
Ticketholders to the Grand Tasting were greeted at the festival entrance with insulated festival bags, an engraved Riedel wine glass, and a few wine-themed tchotchkes. They were then allowed to enter the Grand Tasting and sample up to two hundred and fifty wines and a few champagnes. Dotting the endless array of wine-vendor booths spread throughout downtown Seaside were tables manned by chefs from local restaurants, who served up bite-sized portions of their biggest sellers. Great Southern Cafe’s table served miniature portions of its famous blackened shrimp and Grits à Ya Ya, while Bud & Alley’s, the Pizza Bar, and even Central Square Records served up everything from grilled shrimp to brick-oven pizza and duck-fat caramels. After sampling a few wines, it was a welcome relief to step out of the sun and enjoy a miniature feast of grits and the almost-unequalled taste of a duck-fat caramel.
As I made my way around the amphitheater, I came across the Seaside Wine Project’s sampling table. This new collaboration between Seaside and Kokomo Winery in Sonoma County, California, has released a sauvignon blanc, a red zinfandel, a chardonnay, a pinot noir, and a cuvée; all the wines are bottled under the trademarked Seaside name.
The Seaside Wine Project was holding court right outside the iconic Modica Market, and who should be enjoying a glass of Seaside wine at that moment but Andrés Duany himself, partner of Duany Plater-Zyberk and Company, the design firm that began the New Urbanism movement. Standing beside him was Dhiru Thadani, author of Visions of Seaside. I couldn’t help but smile at the “Seasideness” of the moment. The pair enjoyed the beauty of the day and seemed to be delighted at the idea of a Seaside wine.
“It’s an honor for us to represent this place through our wine. I hope people enjoy it while they are here and take a few bottles back home with them, too.”
Kokomo Winery’s owner and winemaker, Erik Miller, was quick to pour me a glass of wine and admit that he was excited about the collaboration but that he was even more proud of the wines it had created. Located in the Dry Creek Valley of Sonoma, Kokomo is a small winery that has created fine wines for more than eleven years. After meeting with Robert and Daryl Davis (founders of Seaside), Erik knew he was embarking on something special with the Seaside Wine Project. “It’s an honor for us to represent this place through our wine,” he says. “I hope people enjoy it while they are here and take a few bottles back home with them, too.” The new Seaside wines are available at all Seaside restaurants and also sold at Modica Market.
As the day came to a close, some vintners put away half-empty bottles while others sat down for the first time in hours to enjoy the Seaside ambience. Hundreds of visitors had sipped, savored, laughed, and learned underneath a beautiful blue sky in this special little enclave by the beach. By tomorrow, there would be no trace of the lavish event, and life would return to normal on 30-A. Everyone eagerly awaits fall 2016 and the chance to do it all over again!
— V —