If there ever was a time to support our local restaurants, it’s now. The year 2020 was devastating to our dining establishments, and many had to close for months and lost substantial revenue, as well as staff. Now, the Forks & Corks Food and Wine Festival, an annual Sarasota tradition, will be held April 26-May 2 to help ameliorate those losses.

The event is in its 14th year and was created by the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, a group of more than 60 independent, locally owned restaurants. Forks & Corks will offer a plethora of wine and food encounters, as well as an online auction and master classes for those who want to delve deeper into certain types of wines or learn what it takes to be a wine judge. In the past, the Grand Tasting at The Ringling was the highlight of the festival, but due to social distancing required by the Covid-19 pandemic, it has been replaced by a handful of innovative and exciting events.

Beginning Monday, April 26, Food & Wine Experiences will involve dinners and tastings at 21 member restaurants. Each will feature special food and wine matches and some will have experts available to make the event even more interesting. Sarah Firstenberger, director of the Sarasota-Manatee Originals, says these events will do the most to “drive people back into our local eateries at a time when they are very much in need.” As of this writing, a number of participating establishments have not finalized their menus. Of those that have, Café Gabbiano, Michael’s on East and Mattison's sound enticing. Reservations are recommended.

Also starting Monday, April 26, is the Online Auction, which offers a wide range of opportunities for the savvy bidder. A preview will be held Thursday, April 22. Special bottlings and wine packages will be available  from wineries such as Stag’s Leap, Continuum, Duckhorn and many others. Personalized group tours will be available at prestigious vineyards in California and Washington. Also offered will be international and domestic travel packages, lodging, entertainment and other unique experiences. The highlight for some lucky bidder could be a dinner for 12 at Michael’s Wine Cellar. The higher the bid, the better the wine.

The Blend Sarasota: A Strolling Dinner Party, scheduled for Thursday, April 29, has already sold out. Guests fortunate to attend will sip and stroll through four downtown Sarasota member restaurants for a culinary and wine excursion.

The week will culminate with University Master Classes held at Grove and Michael’s on East. On Saturday, May 1, classes at Grove include The Rise of Rosé in the morning and Wine Judge for a Day in the afternoon. Sunday, May 2, will offer The Rise of Rosé at Michael’s on East in the morning, as well as The Crown Jewel of California (Schramsberg) in Michael’s Wine Cellar.

The afternoon will feature From Vine to Wine: A Matter of Terroir at Michael’s on East and Six Degrees of Sangiovese at Michael’s Wine Cellar. Advance ticketing is required.

All in all, a wonderful assortment of food and wine events.

Bob McGinn has spent his entire career in the wine industry—forming wine clubs, working in wine sales marketing and engaging in all facets of the winemaking process, including vine management, fermentation and yeast analysis. He has developed wine programs for companies such as Marriott, Sheraton and Smith & Wollensky, and consults with local restaurants. You can read more of McGinn’s work at gulfcoastwinejournal.com.

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