In the heart of winter, Feb. 17-19, hundreds of fun-loving ladies and gents plan to go absolutely mad as hatters all along the Emerald Coast.
And you can, too. Plan to don your favorite hat and escape down the rabbit hole into a fairytale world filled with curious wonder at the Wine Women & Shoes event themed “Mad Hatters’ Garden Party.”
The fifth annual must-not-miss charity extravaganza is an artful weekend-long celebration of wine, fashion, food and fun benefiting Sinfonia Gulf Coast—the only fully professional non-profit orchestra on the Emerald Coast founded in 2005 by music and artistic director Demetrius Fuller.
Wine Women & Shoes is one of the fastest-growing event series in the country. Elaine Honig, a scion of the prominent California wine producing family, created the event, which was inspired by the classic country ballad “Wine, Women and Song.” Now in its 11th year, the Wine Women & Shoes team has produced more than 220 events, which have helped raise more than $37 million for various nonprofits nationwide.
Demetria McNeese of Destin was instrumental in connecting Sinfonia Gulf Coast to the Wine Women & Shoes event in Northwest Florida. She chaired it for the first couple of years and now sits on the planning committee. A dynamic entrepreneur and patron of the arts, McNeese wears many hats.
She is president and founder of McNeese Distributing, a North Florida-based wine distributor of small production boutique wines, and vice president of McNeese Title, LLC. Thanks to McNeese, both companies are longtime supporters of the event.
As is tradition, the festive weekend kicks off Friday, Feb. 17, with a stellar series of seven Vintner Dinners held in luxury homes, hotels and upscale restaurants along the Northwest Florida Gulf coast beginning at 6 p.m.
This event is a favorite for this hostess. “It’s just so much fun to introduce neighbors and friends,” says McNeese. “There are probably 20 couples who have met at my house and have become dear friends and it’s all as a result of Wine Women & Shoes. It’s fun to share an evening with like minds who also want to support their community and who love to enjoy good wine and food and…fellowship.”
The fun factor steps up on Saturday with Bubbles, Brews & Culinary Qs, presented by Smileology and held at the Hilton Sandestin Beach Golf Resort & Spa. Guests can sip sparkling wines at the Bubbles Bar, locally crafted micro brews and ales by Grayton Beer Company, and tuck into delicious barbecue-inspired light bites while enjoying live music performed by Beachcomber Music Awards Hall of Famers Dread Clampitt.
On Sunday afternoon, “sole sisters” and “sole mates” kick up their heels at the Hilton during the Signature Event, which has become the see-and-be-seen soiree of the season. The lively event—filled with wine and food tastings, retail shopping and live music performances—centers on a high-energy fashion show by Today’s Boutique and crescendos with a live auction of high-end lots of reserve wine, artful excursions, luxury travel trips and the like.
McNeese assures there are “fresh surprises” each year. New this year is a Shoe Box Pull. For a $50 donation, you can select a wrapped shoebox filled with something fabulous valued between $50 and $1,000. Also debuting this year is a treasure trove of national retailers who are venturing to the coast to sell their boutique wares at the event.
A “best shoe” contest is a kick each year, but this year in keeping with the “Mad Hatter” theme, the crowning glory just may be the “best hat” competition.
As passionate as she is about wine, McNeese is even more so about children and education, which is at the heart of the event’s charity. Before relocating to the Gulf Coast she ran a music production company in Nashville, where she witnessed the power of music firsthand.
“I saw how music has helped children, and I saw kids turn to music as a safe harbor,” she says. “Sinfonia’s music education programs ties into my passion and desire to keep music in the schools. I support a lot of causes, but there’s none that I give the time and attention that I give Sinfonia. It’s that important to me.”
Don’t worry if you have the urge to “go mad” at Wine Women & Shoes. As the Mad Hatter told Alice, “The best of us usually are!”
For more info and to purchase tickets for any and all Wine Women & Shoes events, visit SinfoniaGulfCoast.org or call 850-460-8800.
– Zandra Wolfgram
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