Events don’t just coast pass the decade mark. In a busy environment like Key West, it takes something special for an annual event not only to survive, but also to evolve and thrive over the years. The Key West Food and Wine Festival proves to have discovered some piece of that formula as it enters its 11th year. The festival has grown to become “one of the best food and wine festivals in the country,” as designated by the Travel Channel. Event director Mark Certino credits that famous island sparkle and shine. “It works because we’re Key West and there’s a bit of magic in that. Guests come from all over the country and many are repeat guests that I know by name,” Certino said. At the end of the month, those return guests will start flying south as they seek mouth-watering winter sustenance.

For food-lovers (is anyone not a food lover?) and wine lovers (see above), there’s no better place to land in January than a sunny island filled to the brim with local chefs, indigenous ingredients and premium spirits. For five days, Jan. 26 – Feb. 2, visitors can sample over 30 unique events, held in spectacular locations ranging from the deck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham to the classic Key West waterfront. One distinctive event, “Turtles & Sharks & Mermaids, Oh My,” is held among the aquatic residents of Florida’s oldest aquarium. Surrounded by underwater denizens, guests sample fine vintages and inventive cuisine, all served by “mermaids” from the Key West Mermaid Festival. For those seeking scenery and mobility, trolley tours offer wine-fueled stops in Key West’s most remarkable gardens. 

Regardless of the particular setting, guests can expect the same high level of production they’ve experienced in the past. “Someone who was considering flying down for the festival called me the other day and asked what makes this different from other festivals,” said Certino. “Well, this isn’t a typical event with people packed into tents trying to get a taste of the dishes. We limit our numbers very specifically for that reason and intentionally offer unique settings. We’re serving drinks in crystal, never plastic. It’s fun, but it’s still quality.”

Visitors need not worry about what size footprint they’re leaving with all of this indulgence. The festival proudly asserts that the environment isn’t sacrificed for the sake of the sublime. With a fleet of locals and environmentally responsible vendors involved, there is a strong focus on ocean health. “We’re very conscious of our ocean. There’s no plastic, ever,” said Certino. In addition to that commitment, which is impressive at the scale of such a major event, the festival also works with ecological groups to ensure everything is on the right track. One partner, Mote Marine, is also playing host to a sold-out event, in which participants travel to Summerland Key to visit the Mote Marine International Center for Coral Reef Research & Restoration. Once there, festival participants will enjoy sips of great wine while visiting stations where live coral is being cultivated. “You can’t do something like that anywhere else,” said Certino.

Key West Food and Wine Festival
Jan. 26 – Feb. 2
various locations throughout Key West

Tickets available for individual events
Prices range from $30 to $200/event
in person at the Sotheby’s Welcome Center, 420 Fleming St.

Festival Highlights:

26th Annual Master Chefs Classic
Margaritaville Resort
4-7 p.m. on Jan. 26

Colorado Cannabis Retreats CBD Culinary Workshop
The Garden at the Oldest House Museum
9-11 a.m. on Jan. 27

MOTE Marine Coral Reef Wine Tour & Lunch
MOTE Marine Research Center
10 a.m.-3 p.m. on Jan. 28

Sunset Kickoff Party
USCGC Ingham
5-7 p.m. on Jan. 29

Grilled Cheese & Beer
Sunset Green Event Lawn
6-8 p.m. on Jan. 30

Old Town Scavenger Hunt
Conch Republic Seafood Company
2-4:30 p.m. on Jan. 31

“Turtles & Sharks & Mermaids, Oh My”
Key West Aquarium
5-7 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 31

Old Town Uncorked UNLEASHED
along Duval Street
2-5 p.m. on Feb. 1

Key West Artisan Market: Super Bowl Edition
Clarence H. Higgs Memorial Beach
10 a.m.-2 p.m. on Feb. 2

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