Special Guests

Featured Celebrities and Special Guests

We are excited to announce a few special guests joining us for our 31th Annivesary of the Sandestin Wine Festival.

Donna Burgess

With the colors of a coastal sunset her palette, the white sands and emerald waters her playground, Donna artfully captures the seashore experience. Donna has observed the masters and studied with the best, but acknowledges that growing up with images created by her talented mother have been her greatest inspiration. One that she has passed along to her own daughters. A love of the coast translates freely through her color washed interpretations of children enjoying summer, fish leaping from azure waters, pets in play, and cottages styled by memories of a gentle era. Donna’s art is commissioned and collected by presidents and international corporations. However, it is the individual whose selection makes its way home to remind its owner of warmer, calmer days that Donna considers her most valuable collector.

Donna has been a part of the Sandestin Wine Festival from the beginning, and her festival event posters have become annual collector's items.

Donna will be featured with exclusive art work during both Friday and Saturday Grand Tastings.

Want to see a sneak peak of this year's rendering? Click here.

Johan Malan

Chief Winemaker/Co-Owner of Simonsig

Named after the majestic views of the Simonsberg Mountain, Simonsig Estate is situated in the famous Stellenbosch Winelands just 45 km east of Cape Town. Since French Huguenot Jacques Malan first set foot in the Cape in 1688, the Malan family’s wine knowledge accumulated over many generations, and has equipped them to excel as one of the leading private producers of estate wines in South Africa. The late Frans Malan, beloved patriarch of the Malan Family and one of the pioneers of the South African wine industry, was not only a craftsman of superior wines, but also introduced numerous Simonsig ‘firsts’, cementing the estate’s stately legacy in the Cape Winelands.
Frans Malan’s groundbreaking innovations include South Africa’s first Méthode Cap Classique, Kaapse Vonkel, more than 40 years ago. This bottle fermented sparkling wine first produced on Simonsig Estate in 1971, is made in the style of French champagne. He was also a co-founder of the Stellenbosch Wine Routes.
After more than 30 Simonsig vintages, current cellar rmaster Johan Malan continues the family’s pioneering spirit with his own impressive lineage of award winning wines.

John will be featured during Friday and Saturday's Grand Tastings and Friday's Wines of South Africa seminar.

Julie Pepi

Julie Pepi's passion for wine began in 1991. While pursuing a degree in interpersonal communication she walked into what she thought would be a means to pay tuition and discovered a perfect mate for her first passion, which is working with people who truly love to experience life. The perfect match was, and still is wine. She has studied it's history, romance, viniculture, viticulture, mystery and growth for over twenty two years and continues to pursue and marvel at its evolution. She is a second level sommelier with the prestigious Court of Master Sommeliers, Certified Wine Educator and Certified Sake Professional and is currently working towards Master Sommelier certification. She began her career by assisting or directing wine programs in highly profiled Inns and Restaurants-Vanguard establishments such as Glissandi in Lake Tahoe, The White Barn in Kennebunkport, Topper's at the Wauwinet and the Straight Wharf on Nantucket, Chez Le Bear on Sanibel Island, Michaels On East in Sarasota and State Street Eating House in Sarasota. She came to the West Coast of Florida in 2000 and fell in love with it's beauty and subtle sophistication. She joined Michael's Gourmet Group in 2001 as a General Manager. In 2004, she took her passion for food, wine and experiences and formed CJH Cellars and Cuisine Inc. with a focus on private cellar management. She has been a guest editor for SRQ Magazine, Downtown and Beyond, Taste Magazine, Sarasota Magazine and is currently the wine writer for Femme Rouge and Homme Bleu.

She is also a Committee Member/BoardMember/Publicspeaker/Sommelier for a variety of organizations including Women, Wine and Shoes, Forty Carrots, The Humane Society, The Selby Foundation, Grapes for Humanity, Science of Wine, Boys and Girls Club, St. Augustine Food & Wine, Sandestin Food & Wine (Judge) and contributes to many other local causes in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Julie's previous responsibilities include Cellar Master for private collections with over eight million dollars of managed inventory and as a corporate wine buyer and consultant for Michael's on East, CJH Cellars & Cuisine and Ark Catering and Director of Fine Wine for Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits. Her innate ability to create a humanistic environment that allows all wine lovers, from the novice to the expert, to comfortably pursue their knowledge of the grape allows her to constantly achieve her professional goals while constantly enjoying her passion. Julie is currently the Director of the Heritage Collection for Trinchero Family Estates and an Ambassador for Terra d’Oro Winery. She also hosts the popular Women and Wine Series in Sarasota, Bradenton, Longboat Key, Siesta Key and Venice.
Julie will be featured during Friday and Saturday's Grand Tastings and Saturday's Wines of Terra d'Oro seminar.

Jeff Cichocki

Bonterra Organic Vineyards Winemaker | Winery of the Year 2016 Wine Enthusiast

Jeff has always been attuned to the environment … just not always from the perspective of wines. Born in Ohio and raised in southern California, Jeff headed north to Sonoma State University to earn a degree in Environmental Studies at a time when it was an emerging field rife with opportunity. But Jeff was in Sonoma, and the lure of the vine is great. Especially if you’re an environmental planner who wants to dig even deeper into the local ecology. He began his transition as an apprentice in the cellar of Mill Creek Winery in Healdsburg, moving quickly to Cellar Master at Matanzas Creek Winery in Bennett Valley. Jeff’s theme was seeking out small family wineries that crafted fine wines with an eye towards being good stewards to the environment.
He moved on to Cakebread Cellars in Napa and B.R. Cohn in Sonoma Valley before taking on winemaking duties at Mendocino’s Jeriko Estate Winery in Hopland, a winery, not far from Bonterra’s McNab Ranch, that produces a variety of certified organic wines. Jeff joined the team at Bonterra in 2007 and has been an incredible – and ongoing –wealth of knowledge and inspiration for our group.
Jeff will be featured during Friday's and Saturday's Grand Tastings.

Jeff Meyers

Vice President and General Manager of Terra d'Orro

Amador County is off the beaten path, a little less mainstream than its California Wine Country counterparts—yet no less impressive. A place like this, nestled at the foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains, requires storytellers who share the secrets of its unique terroir, of its vines dating back to the 1800s, of its robust, avorful red wines. Jeff Meyers may be the most passionate voice behind the wines of Amador County and Terra d’Oro Winery, where he’s been an integral part of the team for more than 35 years.
Meyers joined Terra d’Oro after graduating at the top of his class in viticulture and enology at the University of California, Davis. Ironically, his foray into winemaking almost never happened. Unaware of the prestigious enology department, Meyers opted to study bacteriology. When a fellow student—and future noted winemaker in Napa— wondered what Meyers planned to do with his degree, Meyers realized he had no idea. He decided to try an introductory winemaking class, and he never looked back.
After a successful 18-year run as winemaker at Terra d’Oro, Meyers was tapped for the winery’s general manager role. Today, as general manager and vice president of Terra d’Oro, Meyers oversees everything from winemaking and viticulture to retail and visitor operations. With an unparalleled knowledge of Amador County, Meyers has been instrumental in developing Italian varieties in the region. He also has helped de ne a style of Zinfandel that is unmistakably Amador County.
Jeff will be featured during Friday Grand Tastings.

Dianna Greene

We have partnered with Ketel One Vodka for the 31st Annual Sandestin Wine Festival. Dianna Greene-Cowan, the Ketel One Vodka Regional Brand Ambassador, will be present throughout the duration of the festival to taste festival goers on several specialty cocktails featuring Ketel One Vodka, concocted by her. Dianna has been a part of the Sandestin Wine Festival for the last 5 years and brings an added feature to wine festival goers.

Dianne will be featured during Friday and Saturday's Grand Tastings at the Good Grit Champagne Tent.

Robert Pallone

Joining us for the second time, Robert Pallone, Reserve Rum Ambassador for Diageo, will be on hand to talk with and sample festival goers on hand crafted Ron Zacapa Rum cocktails. Previously only available in the VIP area, come to the champagne tent and taste one of his delectable cocktails.

Robert will be featured during Friday and Saturday's Grand Tastings at the Good Grit Champagne Tent.

Vanessa Leon

Welcome Vanessa Leon, Diageo Reserve Brand Ambassador, for Don Julio Tequila. She will be on hand along with the iconic Don Julio truck to sample attendees on one or all of her specialty cocktails featuring Don Julio Blanco Tequila and Don Julio Reposado Tequila.

Vanessa will be featured during Friday and Saturday's Grand Tastings at the Good Grit Champagne Tent.

Jo Smith

Jo Smith is an all-American southern girl, with a heart full of charm and a soul full of songs. Her sound is a fresh blend of the country and motown music she grew up listening to in South Georgia. Soul singers Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin spun on her Dad’s vinyl, along with country legends The Judds and Keith Whitley, all influencing Smith to pick up the guitar and find her own unique voice. Now, forging her trail in Nashville, Smith has teamed up with multiple Grammy award winning songsmith and producer, Shane McAnally and Jesse Frasure (Thomas Rhett, Meghan Trainor) to create her new EP, “Introducing Jo Smith,” currently available on iTunes.

Joanna will perform on Saturday, April 22 from 3-5p at the Grand Tasting.

Danni Coyote

Danni is a veteran of the music scene. She started performing in 2008 in Santa Rosa Beach, where she released two solo EP's. Danni has toured nationally promoting her EP releases, and then joined forces with her brother, to form Schatzi + The String Boffin. Their band wasinvited by LiveNation and Belk Department Store to perform as a pre-show opener for Rascal Flatts, Sheryl Crow, Gloriana, Luke Bryan, Cole Swindell, and Lee Brice. Danni continues to see success locally in South Walton.

Danni will perform on Saturday, April 22 from 1-4p at the VIP Lounge.

Matt McCarty Quintet featuring Gina Walker

Nominated for Best Jazz Artist by the Beachcomber, the Matt McCarty Quintet is keeping real jazz alive on the Gulf Coast. Whether playing original compositions or jazz standards, the group puts their unique spin on the music to keep every performance fresh and exciting.

The Matt McCarty Quintet will perform on Friday, April 21 from 5-8pm at the Grand Tasting.

The Seven One Quartet

The Seven One Quartet is a variable collective of local musicians curated from some of the Gulf Coast’s finest performing groups. Led by guitarists Ben Parsons and Dan Hall, they come together to breathe new life into jazz and funk classics from a variety of decades and styles.

The Seven One Quartet will perform on Saturday, April 22 from 1-3p at the Grand Tasting