Culinary travel has become a really popular reason to hit the highway, whether it’s just to another neighborhood in your own town or to another city to experience their unique cuisine. Food and wine festivals are a great way to (literally) get a taste of something new while discovering your next favorite dining destination. The culinary calendar around the South is jam-packed for the first half of the year, so gas up your car and make an extra appointment with your personal trainer.
By Chris Chamberain
StyleBlueprint’s Southern Foodie Event & Festival Guide 2017: Part 1
February 4, 2017: Queen City Brewers Festival — Charlotte, North Carolina
Almost two dozen local and regional breweries will be serving beers in two sessions at this popular tasting event that benefits a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the lives of children affected by autism spectrum disorders.
February 23-25, 2017: Pairings — Nashville, Tennessee
This weekend of private vintners’ dinners, auctions and tasting events pairs chefs from Chicago with local Nashville favorites to raise money for the Nashville Wine Auction and its support of cancer charities. Dozens of wineries will be bringing their best juice to share and to contribute to the charitable auction.
February 25, 2017: Nuit Belge — Atlanta, Georgia
Unlike any other beer festival in the South, Nuit Belge gives samples of rare beers from around the world to some of the best chefs in town who then create high-end food pairings for guests at the classy event. The complementary plates and beers rise far above your usual tasting event fare. The festival tours around some of the region’s finest culinary centers with stops in New Orleans on February 3, Charleston on March 25 and Nashville on March 18.
February 26, 2017: Cochon555 — Nashville, Tennessee
For almost a decade, the Cochon555 tour has circled the country raising awareness for heritage breed hogs by holding snout-to-tail cooking competitions featuring local chefs, high-end wineries and artisan hog farmers. This is the first time the event will stop in Nashville, and the chefs are sure to rise to the occasion.
February 28, 2017: Taste of the Highlands — Louisville, Kentucky
The Highlands neighborhood of Louisville is already home to some of the city’s favorite restaurants, but when they come together for a tasting event, you’ll be sure to graze better than even the greatest thoroughbreds in a field of bluegrass. Proceeds benefit Highlands Community Ministries, helping neighbors in need of food, emergency financial help and quality-of-life programs.
February 28 through March 4, 2017: Bourbon Classic — Louisville, Kentucky
Kentucky’s famous “brown water” is the star in this week of high-class events pairing Louisville’s finest cuisine with the state’s best bourbons. In addition to educational opportunities, some of Louisville’s top chefs and mixologists will team up for competitions as part of the Bourbon Classic Cocktail & Culinary Challenge.
March 1-5, 2017: Charleston Wine + Food Festival — Charleston, South Carolina
Charleston’s premier chefs share their kitchens with friends from around the country to plan lavish dinners that are once-in-a-lifetime experiences during this food festival. Several days of educational seminars and tasting tent sessions offer opportunities to discover all the glories of Lowcountry cuisine.
March 4, 2017: Beer, Bourbon & BBQ Festival — Atlanta, Georgia
Celebrate the three “killer b’s” or beer, bourbon and BBQ at this no-nonsense festival where guests enjoy tasting opportunities of multiple brews, whiskeys and all the smoked pig they can handle. Other Southern stops on this boozy and porky tour include Charlotte on May 13 and Knoxville on May 20.
March 7, 2017: Flavors — Nashville, Tennessee
Many of Nashville’s top food and beverage professionals come together to share dishes and drinks at this event, which benefits the Nashville State Community College Foundation to support their efforts to train the next generation of kitchen stars. Take a tour of the best food and drink that the city has to offer while checking out the Nashville State Community College’s fantastic Health & Humanities building.
March 9, 2017: Taste of Homewood — Birmingham, Alabama
Homewood, a thriving suburb of Birmingham, has a rich tradition of excellent restaurants, and some of the best of the best come together at this annual tasting to raise funds for the Homewood Chamber of Commerce’s scholarships for local students and economic development efforts in the community. Eat well and do good at the same time!
March 9-12, 2017: 30A Wine Festival — Alys Beach, Florida
The sixth edition of this wine event returns to the idyllic setting of Alys Beach along Highway 30A in Florida’s panhandle. Several days of events range from casual to Rosé & Croquet, but all of them feature exceptional wine, beer and spirits and food from some of the area’s top chefs.
March 10-12, 2017: Vintage 901 — Memphis, Tennessee
With so many entertaining food, drink and music events, this Memphis festival has to stretch the weekend to three days to fit it all in. A Perfect Pairing dinner, Grand Tasting and two separate brunches are among the highlights.
March 24 & 25, 2017: UNwineD — Panama City Beach, Florida
Like a two-day garden party in Aaron Bessant Park across the street from the Gulf of Mexico in the middle of picturesque Panama City Beach, UNwineD is one of the premier food, wine and beer events in Florida. This year they have added entertainment in the form of the Avett Brothers, one of the top touring Americana acts, so it should be even more special.
April 8, 2017: Overton Square Crawfish Festival — Memphis, Tennessee
Mudbugs are the stars of the show at this festive event which features Cajun food and plenty of arts and crafts vendors for your shopping pleasure in the comfortable environs of Overton Square. Admission is free, so there’s no excuse not to laissez les bons temps rouler!
April 19-23, 2017: Charlotte Wine & Food Weekend — Charlotte, North Carolina
Leading winemakers and chefs from around the world descend on the Queen City for a series of dinners and tasting events to benefit children’s charities in Charlotte. Individual events for this year’s weekend have not yet been announced but you can expect dinners, pairings, tastings, demonstrations and so much more!
April 22, 2017: Southern Hotwing Contest & Festival — Memphis, Tennessee
Whose wings are kings is the primary focus of this casual celebration of all things wingy. In addition to the coveted title of top wing cook, there is also an eating contest to see who can consume the most poultry parts in five minutes.
April 27-30, 2017: South Walton Beaches Wine & Food Festival — South Walton, Florida
Experience wine, beer, spirits and food in paradise at a weekend of festivities that will make you start checking the real estate listings rather than heading home from the preferred lodgings at the Hilton Sandestin. The days are filled with tastings and educational seminars while the evenings feature live music and slightly more formal events held in the Grand Boulevard’s Town Center. Come hungry and thirsty; leave fat and happy!
April 28-30, 2017: Corks & Chefs — Birmingham, Alabama
Festival organizers boast that “The 20th annual Corks & Chefs is the place where art, food, beer, wine and spirits meet.” So why wouldn’t you want to be there to meet with them? We can’t think of any good reason, so make plans to experience the best of Birmingham’s food and drink scene at this delicious weekend of events.
April 29 & 30, 2017: National Cornbread Festival — South Pittsburg, Tennessee
The makers of Lodge cast iron skillets and other products invite their fans to their hometown to celebrate that most Southern of baked goods, cornbread. In addition to a weekend of corny events, the festival also includes the finals of the vaunted Martha White National Cornbread Cook-Off where you can watch amateur chefs compete for cash and prizes while cooking up their favorite recipes.
May 2 & 3, 2017: Kentucky Proud WineFest — Louisville, Kentucky
Derby Week in Louisville can be a blur of festive events all over town, so you might want to slow down and enjoy a glass of wine (or five) at this celebration of the almost 100 wineries that produce great juice in Kentucky and Indiana. The tastings run over the course of two evenings right in the middle of downtown at Waterfront Park.
May 4, 2017: Taste of Derby — Louisville, Kentucky
As competitive as the jockeys aboard the Derby entries can be, they’ve got nothing on the roster of local and guest chefs who participate in the Live Chef Showdown that is the highlight of this classy evening of food, drink and music at Churchill Downs.
May 11, 2017: Savor Nashville Dinner — Nashville, Tennessee
Normally an opportunity to invite nationally renowned chefs to Nashville, this year’s Savor Dinner will instead feature local talent who have made their names cooking in local restaurants. Chefs Tandy Wilson, Maneet Chauhan, Matt Bolus and Andrew Little will join host chef Kerri Roach to create a fantastic multi-course meal at the Hutton Hotel for a lucky assemblage of patrons.
May 17-20, 2017: Memphis in May World Championship Barbecue Cooking Contest — Memphis, Tennessee
Known as one of the preeminent contests in the world of competition barbecue, Memphis in May is the best combination of dead-serious cooking and hard-core partying between cooking sessions. Stroll along the Mississippi and smell the delicious hickory smoke rolling down the river.
May 20, 2017: Nashville Wine & Food Festival — Nashville, Tennessee
The fourth annual Nashville Wine and Food Festival features wine and food villages where attendees can sample products from wineries, breweries, restaurants and local food artisans as well as educational seminars from sommeliers and chefs. There’s also a cigar lounge for those who enjoy a nice stogie.
May 20, 2017: Food & Wine Noir — Atlanta, Georgia
Atlanta celebrates the people of color who contribute to the culinary community at this series of food and drink tastings and panels near downtown. There will also be plenty of live music to keep the party pumping.
May 20, 2017: International Biscuit Festival — Knoxville, Tennessee
As they say, “You’ve gotta risk it for the biscuit,” and the competitors at the cooking events at the International Biscuit Festival definitely know where their biscuits are buttered. In addition to the cooking contest, there’s a Miss or Mister Biscuit Pageant, a Biscuit Songwriting Competition and even a Biscuit Art Exhibition. Plus there will be plenty of opportunities to sample delicious biscuit dishes all over downtown.
June 1-4, 2017: Atlanta Food & Wine Festival — Atlanta, Georgia
One of the Mid South’s biggest and best culinary festivals takes over Midtown for the seventh consecutive year. Myriad options tempt serious foodies from educational panels and cooking demos to special dinners to acres of tasting tents featuring food and drink vendors organized into “trails” to make it easier to find some new favorite foods.
June 3 & 4, 2017: Magic City Brewfest — Birmingham, Alabama
The 10th iteration of the Magic City Brewfest will emphasize both volume and quality with more than 200 individual beers available for sampling over the course of the two-day event, including many rare, specialty and cask ales which have never been seen before in Alabama. If you’re a fan of fine craft beers, you need to be at Sloss Furnace that weekend. And maybe consider Ubering…
June 9-11, 2017: Taste of Charlotte — Charlotte, North Carolina
This free food and drink festival stretches over six city blocks in downtown Charlotte. Attendees can purchase tokens to exchange for tastes of food and drink from some of the city’s best purveyors, or they can use their coins for fun activities for the kids like a climbing wall and inflatables. Free music and other entertainment will also be available on multiple stages, so it’s worth visiting on multiple days.
June 11-13, 2017: FAB Conference — Charleston, North Carolina
Unlike regular food and drink festivals, FAB is actually a conference designed specifically for women in the business who are looking to move up in hospitality industry or maybe break into management. In addition to fantastic successful female business operators from around the South, FAB organizers have arranged speakers from major magazines, restaurant groups and industry consulting firms from across the country to lead seminars and participate in networking opportunities.
June 17, 2017: Taste of Music City — Nashville, Tennessee
One of Nashville’s largest food and drink events is celebrating its 15th anniversary with the biggest all-inclusive tasting session yet covering downtown’s Public Square Park. Multiple tents will house chefs and restaurants offering delicious samples of their fabulous fare, and wine, beer and cocktails will also be available to wash it all down. For a lovely summer evening of food and fun, don’t miss the Taste of Music City!
June 17, 2017: PaBREWcah Beer Festival — Paducah, Kentucky
Paducah is a little-known gem of the state of Kentucky with a lively arts scene and a couple of great downtown breweries. The PaBREWcah Beer Festival features the local duo along with other regional and national craft beers, in addition to food vendors and live entertainment to create a fantastic festival near the banks of the Ohio River.