For the third year in a row, WineCompass was invited to attend several events associated with the South Beach Wine & Food Festival this past February 19th-22nd. Primarily sponsored by the Food Network, Food & Wine magazine, Whole Foods, and Southern Wine and Spirits of America; the festival is a fundraiser for the Florida International University 's School of Hospitality and Tourism Management. In fact, the School of Hospitality and Tourism Management is one of the highest rated hospitality and tourism programs in the United States . According to Lisa B. Palley, our liaison to the students, “Hospitality and tourism industry executives from around the world visit the school annually to interview and hire graduates for key management-track positions in the vast array of fields in which FIU’s students are prepared. Today many of the school’s 9,000 graduates hold prominent positions in the hospitality industry around the Western Hemisphere, Europe and Asia .” Obviously a worthy beneficiary.
We attend about a dozen similar events each year, but nothing comes close to this festival. Take premium wine, beer and spirits; excellent food prepared by extraordinary chefs; the vitality of SOBE and you get - heartburn and a hangover – but what a party getting there. The festival is based around the Grand Tasting Village – located on the white sands of south beach – right in the middle of the art district. (This year we planned accordingly and reserved a room at the Hotel Impala\Hotel La Flora right on 12th and Collins - 1 block from the festival entrance. Nice newly renovated hotel at a great location - and if you travel with dogs - this is your place.) Throughout the day chefs and television personalities give seminars and sign books; students from FIU’s School of Hospitality and Tourism Management cook and distribute their cuisine; and sponsors provide product samples. Delta and the Robert Mondavi Winery served wine at the entrance, while a tent for the Wines of Spain provided several styles of Spanish wine. Love the Cava and Sherry. Let’s not forget the Sauza Tequila, Cruzan rum and Russian vodka. And we haven’t even gotten to the Grand Tasting Tents. Once the Grand Tasting opened, attendees had access to hundreds of wines and spirits – plus some Amstel Light to cleanse the palate. Local chefs prepared gourmet cuisine along the outskirts of tents – all the while trying to keep pace with the excessive demands from the horde. What a logistical nightmare that was carried out rather flawlessly.
The festival was not fixated just on the beach. During the day the Wine Spectator provided wine seminars at the Convention Center; while many Food Network personalities provided seminars aimed at kids at the Parrot Jungle. When the sun set, official and unofficial parties sprung out along the strip – some like the Wine Spectator’s Best of the Best – saw industrialist individuals scalping tickets. Whatever people finally paid for those tickets were worth every penny – this was by far the marquee event of the festival. Over the next few days we will be posting our experiences and observations – starting with the FUI School of Hospitality and Tourism Management students, through the aforementioned Best of the Best, to the Grand Tasting Village. We hope this tradition continues – meaning – we hope the invitation remains open for next year.