The Blog

Kick Off Spring at a Southern Food Festival

Southern food is the country's comfort food.
This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.

Spring is finally beginning to show its colors around the South after a frosty winter and people are heading into the sunshine for adventures--culinary adventures. Southern food is the country's comfort food and the following cities take it seriously with festivals combining food, drink and music to celebrate regional food culture.

Blueridge Wine and Food Festival
April 16-19, 2015, Blowing Rock, NC

Nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina is Blowing Rock, a picturesque town set around the natural rock formation called, well, Blowing Rock. In addition to a music festival held in September, Blowing Rock is home to the Blue Ridge Wine and Food Festival. Attendees will find wine tastings, seminars, cooking demonstrations, along with food and wine pairings. A savvy seminar offered is the Riedel Challenge, where guests can experience how wine tastes when served in glasses designed especially for the wine. Area chefs will gather under the Grand Tasting Tent for a special Taste! edition of small plates and samples from their restaurants. Wines from throughout the world will be on offer, along with North Carolina mountain wines and those from the nearby Yadkin Valley wine region. The pinnacle of the festival is the Reserve Tasting at the Inn at Ragged Garden on Saturday, April 18.

Taste 2015
April 23-26, 2015, Durham, NC

Durham, N.C. is fast developing a reputation as a world-class food city. With several James Beard award winners and nominees, Durham draws foodies from all over the country to enjoy its spin on Southern comfort food to haute cuisine. The annual Taste celebration of food and drink sponsored by Chapel Hill and Durham magazines draws on the region's culinary talent for dining and drinking extravaganzas including a burger and brew smashdown at Fullstream Brewery, an artisan cocktail dinner at The Cookery, a NC roots dinner at Watts Grocery, the Foggy Ridge Cider Dinner at the Sarah P. Duke Memorial Gardens, and the Grand Taste Experience at the Durham Armory where 20 chefs will provide tastings of their finest. Previous Taste events have run throughout the year, beginning with the Bull City New Year's Eve Party to cap off 2014; a cooking class led by 2015 James Beard award finalist Phoebe Lawless of Scratch Bakery; a Valentine's Day indoor tailgate party; and a BBQ, beer and bus tour of Durham. Profits from the Taste events will go to the Durham Branch of the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina.

Two in the Florida Panhandle

If you're pining for the Florida sand and sunshine along with a food experience, here's two choices in the Destin/Ft. Walton Beach area.

The Sandestin Wine Festival
April 16-19, 2015, Destin, FL

This is the 29th year of the Sandestin Wine Festival in Destin, Fla. Held at the Village of Baytowne Wharf, the festival offers four days of wine dinners with celebrity chefs and wine tastings to showcase hundreds of wines. A kick-off dinner at Rum Runner features winemaker Jessica Munnell of Mercer Wine Estates. Marlin Grill is offering dinner for two with a flight of wine paired with the chef's selections. A lunch cruise in partnership with Coastal Wine & Spirits and SunQuest Cruises features a four-course, Gulf Coast seafood menu paired with premium champagnes. Prior to the Saturday Grand Tasting, a VIP tasting takes place at the Amenities Terrace in the Village of Baytowne Wharf with music by Maggie Chapman and Josh and Nicole Johnson from Elenowen. Those who feel overindulged can take part in Mind Body Beach, a morning combination of yoga, mimosas and the warm sands. The final event of the festival is Sunday Brunch at Baytowne Marina overlooking the Choctawhatchee Bay, with live music, free-flowing sangrias, margaritas and mimosas, along with fresh, seasonal brunch selections.

South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival
April 23-26, 2015, South Walton Beach, FL

Chan Cox founded the Sandestin Wine Festival on the sidewalk outside of his small wine store in Sandestin, Fla, 30 years ago. Buoyed by that success, Cox stretched out in 2013 with the South Walton Beaches Wine and Food Festival. Food pairings and wine tastings happen all weekend in various locations throughout the festival. There's a Champagne Lane, Culinary Village, a craft beer and spirits jam, a charity wine auction, educational wine seminars, a Nashville singers showcase, and a VIP meet and greet with winemakers.

Nashville Food and Wine Festival
May 16, 2015, Nashville

Here's what Music City, USA says about its upcoming festival: "Wine nourishes the palate, food nourishes the body, music nourishes the soul." The Nashville Food and Wine Festival combines this trinity of sustenance in a one-day extravaganza held at the city's Riverfront Park. Here you'll find a selection wine makers, spirit vendors, breweries, food tasting stations, and musical acts throughout the day. Participating restaurants include 1808 Grille, the Authentic Chicago Pizza Company 312, Adele's, Tempur Chocolate Shop, Sole Mio, Amot Eatery and Watermark. The Nashville Symphony is the beneficiary of proceeds from the festival.

New Orleans Wine and Food Experience
May 20-23, 2015

Renowned for its food and music, the Big Easy brings it all together with one of the top culinary festivals in the nation. The 22nd annual New Orleans Wine and Food Experience features hundreds of wineries and restaurants, showcasing local flavors and cuisine, as well as innovative gastronomic expressions worthy of the city. More than two dozen restaurants participate with exclusive dining evenings and special tasting events from wineries. The extravaganza brings grand tasting events and promenade evenings in the French Quarter, along with number of seminars. A festival highlight looks like the The Big Gateaux Show where extravagant pastries are paired with champagne and spirits hosted by celebrity chefs and featuring Trixie Minx and the Beauties from Burlesque Ballroom. The Royal Street Stroll adds wine tasting to the shopping along this New Orleans iconic boulevard.

Vintage Virginia Wine and Food Festival
May 30-31, 2015, Centerville, VA

Centerville, Virg. is about an hour west of Washington, D.C. and home of the 32nd annual Vintage Virginia Wine and Food Festival. Sponsored by the Virginia Wineries Association, the event features two days of wine tasting and food experiences upon the greens of the historic Bull Run Regional Park. Saturday and Sunday feature chef demos and dinners twice a day, while food trucks and beverage vendors offer a variety of cuisines, brews and spirits. Entertainment includes the Love Canon String Band and Big Tony and Trouble Funk. It's a family friendly event, with prices for one-day festival access beginning at $30 for adults; $15 for teenagers or designated drivers (no alcohol), and $7 children 6-12 years.

Atlanta Food and Wine Festival
May 28-31, 2015, Atlanta

The Atlanta Food and Wine Festival started out in 2010 as a showcase of Southern food from Texas to D.C. and has grown to be one of the South's premiere festivals for food connoisseurs. The festival has a list of top-name sponsors, including Atlanta's hometown beverage, CocaCola, and Southern Living, the magazine that defines the South to the rest of the country. Three days of classes, demos and seminars offer everything from tasting, sipping and selecting, to grilling, mopping and pairing everything together. Five evening dinners and Sunday brunch set throughout the three days promise superb wine, beverage and food pairings for the discriminating gourmand. Those who crave a more intimate food encounter can purchase the Connoisseur Experience package, which allows access to an exclusive lounge, a beverage program, daily breakfasts served by award-winning chefs, reserve seating for the general festival classes and VIP access to the tasting tents, plus all evening dinners and events.