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Swirl, Sip and Savor

Posted on Sep 01, 2016 in Seeing Red Wine Festival , September-October 2016

The Seeing Red Wine Festival is an ideal fall event for wine and food lovers who want to find a new favorite varietal. Photo by Wendy O. Dixon

In the early days of Seaside, when there was not much more on 30A than a handful of houses, the town’s merchants got together to come up with a new kind of event, one that would bring potential homeowners and customers to their tiny, mostly undiscovered holiday town. At the time, the 30A area was still a highly seasonal destination for tourists, with long stretches in the fall and winter during which few people would visit. The merchants wanted to find a way to draw potential customers to Seaside during these off-season months. According to Dave Rauschkolb, co-founder of Bud & Alley’s Waterfront Restaurant, Seaside at that time was the cultural center of the 30A area and, with few established traditions in place, creating an entirely new event was like painting on a blank canvas.

The merchants toyed with many ideas for what this new event should be. Erica Pierce, head of the Seaside Style stores, recalls that many of them had just attended the Sandestin Wine Festival at the Market Shops, which had started a few years before, and which was already a massive hit. Sandestin’s success inspired them to create their own wine festival, with the hope that it also might be well received.

According to both Pierce and Rauschkolb, Bud & Alley’s co-founder Scott Witcoski deserves credit for coming up with the name and theme of the event. He crafted a large, predominantly red poster for the first year. The name ‘Seeing Red’ struck him as a perfect fit for this image. Witcoski suggested they only serve red wine at their festival, a theme in accord with both the name and graphics. The merchants chose October, back then an off-season month, as the time to hold the event.

The merchants began organizing and preparing. Rauschkolb describes their early efforts as very “grass-roots.” With no proper tents, they turned to Cabana Man owner Larry Neville, and asked to borrow his beach umbrellas, which they planted in the lawn of the Seaside Amphitheater. Amongst themselves they divided up the duties of running the festival’s operations, including pouring wine and selling tickets. They also hired a jazz band, as Bud & Alley’s at the time always featured live entertainment.

No one can quite remember how much the tickets cost, but guesses range from $25 to $50. Pierce said throwing an event of this scale was stressful the first time around, because they had no way of knowing whether it would be well received or whether they would break even. She recalls sitting in the back of the Pizitz Home & Cottage shop after the festival had ended, counting a huge stack of cash and checks with Rauschkolb, trying to determine whether they had succeeded. When they saw that they had made their money back, and heard people raving about the festival afterwards, they knew they had pulled it off. Pierce estimates they sold almost 800 tickets the very first year, making their new festival a hit right from the start. Carmel Modica of Modica Market, another member of the founding team, said that while she felt confident the event would be a hit, everyone was surprised by how successful it was.

As time went on, the festival changed. Running it became easier as people started to volunteer to work in exchange for a free ticket. The volunteers took the pressure off the merchants, who could go back to operating their businesses. The merchants hired a director to oversee the festival, and expanded the weekend to include Friday. At that point, the event had a life of its own, and could flourish without the direct efforts of the merchants. After the sixth year it had become so popular that they had to limit ticket sales.

Now there are many wine festivals on 30A and in the surrounding area. Carmel Modica says the Seeing Red Wine Festival stands apart because it has grown from an event into a tradition. Many people make the pilgrimage year after year to attend it, and feel a kind of connection and ownership of it.

Rauschkolb believes the importance of tradition cannot be overstated. “Traditions are the glue that holds together communities and that bonding is what gets passed on from generation to generation,” he says.

The Seeing Red Wine Festival, now in its 26th year, has brought many to Seaside for the first time, and has helped our town grow into a community. Much is owed to the founding merchants who created this event. So this year, let’s raise a glass to the community builders and culture creators among us, and aim to follow their example. Though the cultural ‘canvas’ of 30A may no longer be blank, there’s still plenty of room on it for the next eager event planner to make their mark.

Seeing Red festivities will be held Nov. 3-6, and will include reserve wine tastings, dinners and a brunch with featured guest winemakers. Several of Seaside’s restaurants will show how their farm-to-fork and gulf-to-table offerings pair beautifully with the featured wines. For ticket information, go to seeingredwinefestival.com.

Ticket Packages

Accommodations in Seaside range from a one-bedroom hideaway to a private cottage large enough for families of all sizes, all set among brick paved streets and picket fences. Amenities include the private swim, tennis and fitness club, gift totes and free DVD rentals.

Special packages during the festival are available through the Seaside Visitors Bureau partners — Cottage Rental Agency (cottagerentalagency.com), Sunburst Beach Vacations (sunburstbeachvacations.com) and Homeowner’s Collection (homeownerscollection.com).

Park and Ride

Guests can take the shuttle to and from Seaside for the event. The Seeing Red Wine Festival is offering free parking to all guests at Publix at WaterColor Crossings on County Road 395. Guests can access this lot by heading south on 395 from Highway 98 and following the signs. Trams will run continuously from 11a.m. to 7 p.m., allowing guests the opportunity to arrive early and stroll through Seaside and stay late for dinner following the event.