The Harvest Food & Wine Festival never gives up on their community
Words by Ashley Locke
What if you could go to the beach for a good cause? What if you could hang out with your friends for charity? What if you could drink a glass of wine and make a positive impact? For the last four years, the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation has been turning what sounds like a dream vacation into an event that changes the lives of children all across Northwest Florida. This November, they’re celebrating the 5th Annual Harvest Food & Wine Festival, with hopes of benefiting more kids than ever before.
The idea for the festival was simple—people love great food and great wine, so what could be better than pairing them together for a great cause? Since the first year, it's been a roaring success, but it hasn’t always been easy. “In 2018, Hurricane Michael hit 17 days before the festival.” said DCWAF President, John Russell. “We doubted if we should even do the events, but what came back to us was, ‘Please don’t give up on it—we need something positive in the community.’”
When COVID-19 hit in 2020, there was concern about how to continue raising money for the 16 children’s charities that relied on the funds—especially in such a critical year. There was a crucial need for food, shelter, and mentorship. Rather than give up, the DCWAF team decided to innovate. They said goodbye to larger gatherings in favor of smaller, more intimate wine dinners. “They kept selling out, so we kept adding more,” said Russell.
Not only was the 2020 festival successful, the pivot also helped introduce new, fun events that attendees loved. “We’re determined to create a great event no matter what comes at us,” said Russell—and that’s exactly what they’ve done. Attendees and wineries alike have returned year after year.
“It’s gotten bigger each year, which doesn’t always mean better—but in this case it does!” said Kathryn Reynolds from Roy Estate, who have been pouring their wine since the festival’s first year. “More breweries, restaurants, and wineries have stepped up for a good cause. To be invited back year after year is really special.”
“I love to get a good fun group of friends together and make it a day,” said Lane Redding. “We get a limo and go all together. It’s a really fun time to be together, taste wine, walk around and talk to people.”
The sense of community at the festival is a small taste of the passion DCWAF has for Northwest Florida. “It’s not our story, it’s the story of the children and the charities we support,” said Russell. “We don’t have a lot of museums and theaters in the area, so non-profit events drive a lot of the culture—and when people are new here, they’re looking for ways to get involved in the community. We love to be a part of that.”
This year’s Harvest Festival is exciting for many reasons—including the return of gathering. “We’re excited to be back, to have some sense of normalcy, to be hugging each other,” said Reynolds. “It will be so nice to share a glass of wine with people.”
Though things will be different this year, the Harvest Festival isn’t completely leaving past years behind. “We won’t have a hurricane or a pandemic this year, but we learned a lot from those things,” said Russell. “We want to meld the best part of each year, but we also want to challenge ourselves to continually go in a different direction than everyone else.” That means keeping popular events like the wine dinners and Grand Tasting, then adding exciting and new events like a Sunday brunch. This year’s festival also aligns with the Mountainfilm Festival, giving visitors an opportunity to enjoy wine all day and movies at night.
As enjoyable as all the events are, the real meaning is the mission—helping Northeast Florida’s kids. “We don’t want to forget why we’re there,” said Russell. “The needs of our charities continue to grow, and we will continue to be there to support them.”
To purchase tickets for the 5th Annual Harvest Food and Wine Festival, November 4-7 in WaterColor, Florida, visit www.dcwaf.org.