While working for wine companies, I was very lucky to have been sent to 40 of the 50 US states. I attended all the major wine festivals (Aspen, Boston, New Orleans, Santa Fe, Charlotte, etc.), pouring wine for the wine companies I was representing, while experiencing  a lot of the United States. I learned that each state has a pivotal center, and a unique history and culture. (Yes, they do say, “You betcha!” in Minnesota, and the cab drivers in New York play, “Let’s kill the pedestrian who shouldn’t have left the curb, because it’s my green light, damn it!”)

There are many places that I love visiting, and there are certain times of the year that I enjoy travel specific to those states. For me, there’s nothing more enjoyable than April on Florida’s Gulf Coast for the Florida Winefest & Auction. The weather is gorgeous, the tropical humidity is perfect, and the smell of salt air in the Gulf of Mexico has a scent all of its own. The long, white sand beaches begins to call me in February, and I have to restrain myself from yearning, so I don’t become enveloped in daydreaming.

In a week, I’ll be back there with many of my wine making friends:

We’re going to be hosting a panel at the Ritz Carlton called: Hearty Reds and Decadent Chocolate: Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah Seminar

Date: Friday, April 24
Time: 1:30 pm

Wine legends John Monnich (Silkwood Wines), Mike Phillips (Michael-David Winery), Jeff Miller (Artisan Family of Wines), and Greg Lint (Oak Knoll Winery and a former Chocolatier), are participating in a tasting of big, hearty red wines with some of the decadent chocolate delights of Katrina Markoff’s Vosges Chocolates. A disciple of Ferran and Alberto Adria of Spain’s famed El Bulli restaurant, chic Chocolatier Katrina Markoff’s creations stir up many exotic influences, which will prove once-and-for-all, red wine and dark chocolate make the perfect food and wine pairing.

Greg Lint is also bringing chocolate delights from Wine Lovers’ Chocolate. As a Chocolatier, Greg is as articulate and knowledgeable about how chocolate is grown, where it’s grown, how it’s harvested, as well as how it’s crafted. The session is going to be much more extensive than it would appear on the surface… We’ll all walk away from this seminar much more informed.

The Florida Winefest & Auction is organized by a group of dedicated volunteers, and is truly a first-class, fun event dedicated to helping children in need. Over the past 18 years, they’ve awarded more than $6.6 million in grants to more than 71 charitable children’s programs in their community. As a volunteer-based organization, they work year-round offering support, inspiration, and motivation for children to reach their fullest potential.

This world-class food and wine experience allows those who attend to mingle with 60+ winemakers, winery owners, and world-renowned chefs, all in one place over a long weekend. It’s a perfect opportunity for anyone to entertain family, friends, or clients, if you’re lucky enough to be in that area.

This year, as in all past years of working at this event, I’ll be staying at the gorgeous Longboat Key Club… to my heart’s yearning and delight. I’ll be blogging about this hotel complex next week from the Longboat Keys, sharing images and stories. For now, I’m thankful to Longboat’s General Manager Michael Welly, Mary Kay Ryan (Director of Marketing & Communications), and Angela Henley (Reservations Manager). It takes a village to raise a Jo Diaz.

Hope to see you there!

19th Auunal Florida Winefest & Auction ~ April 23-26, 2009