Juicy jubilations 

Six events celebrating the glory of the grape

When spring arrives in the Southeast, food and wine fests pop up like weeds after a pelting rain. They are so plentiful, you need waders to get through the crappy ones. But some are worth the rising prices, and many benefit charities -- nothing wrong with drinking on a good conscience. Here's a recommended (if not-so-comprehensive) list of those you might consider attending, even if it requires a flight or a full tank of gas.

Hilton Head Island's 19th Annual WineFest

The largest outdoor wine tasting on the East Coast with more than 500 domestic and international wines, continuous entertainment and gourmet vittles from Hilton Head Island's best restaurants.

March 13, Shelter Cove Community Park, Hilton Head, S.C. 800-424-3387 or www.hiltonheadisland.com/hospitalityassociation. Tickets are $30 each and include a souvenir glass.

High Museum of Art and Wine Auction

The best and brightest of Atlanta's wine tasting schedule, but also the most expensive and the most uppity. Premiere is only one word to describe this extraordinarily hedonistic event, now in its 12th year. Easily one of the best wine events in the nation, it boasts more than 100 first-class vintners. The four-day schedule includes the vintner's reception; winemaker dinners at private homes throughout Atlanta; tasting seminars; a first-rate auction featuring rare, large-format bottles and amazing wine vacations; and the gala dinner dance.

March 24-27, Lenox Square and various locations in Atlanta. www.atlanta-wineauction.org. Tickets start at $55 and go way up from there. Proceeds go to the High Museum of Art in Atlanta.

Florida Winefest & Auction

Sarasota's Winefest, now in its 13th year, is the créme de la créme of wine fests in Central Florida. Plenty of local rich folk arrive in splendor, pay boatloads of money for sell-out, in-home winemaker dinners (prepared by local celebrity chefs and poured by winemakers) and to hang out at food and wine seminars. Although I don't have bourgeois tendencies, I sure love this festival. It just has an enchanted feel. Maybe it's the nearly perfect weather and the hoards of well-dressed people. Or maybe it's just that everyone is there to share in the love of food and wine. The event is well organized and never disappointing, and raises money for nonprofit agencies with programs benefiting disadvantaged children in Sarasota and Manatee counties. April 13-15, The Ritz-Carlton, Sarasota, Fla. www.floridawinefest.com or 877-FLA-WINE. Tickets range from $15 to $600 for the full meal deal weekend.

Wine South Fifth Annual Festival

Wine South, a hugely popular happening where gorging becomes an art form, is two days of events celebrating food, wine, art and music. If you're looking to learn, be sure to check out the wine seminars that are well worth the extra bucks. Admission includes a souvenir glass, wine tastings, gourmet food samples and live music.

Sept. 18-19, Gwinnett Center, Duluth. www.winesouth.com or 678-985-9494. $50 for daily ticket, $95 for weekend pass.Third annual Wine Festival at Villa Christina

An all-day extravaganza of wine, food, art and music, held in the restaurant and rose gardens of Villa Christina. Sample juice from around the world and gourmet fare from more than 30 Atlanta restaurants. Vendors sell wine-related art and wine gadgets, and the silent auction benefits Angel Flight of Georgia. Chefs are on-hand to demonstrate their expertise, and live entertainment moves your feet from one wine taste to the next.

May 23, Villa Christina. www.villachristina.com or 404-303-0133. $45 in advance, $50 at door.

4th Annual North Carolina Wine Festival

This festival celebrates the burgeoning wine-growing regions in North Carolina. Eighteen wineries pour their heartfelt juice, from earthy Muscadine varieties to ones we all know like Chardonnay and Merlot. Plenty of food, entertainment and arts/crafts vendors make this down-home fun.

June 12, Tanglewood Park in Clemmons, N.C. www.ncwinefestival.com or 336-733-5825. Tickets are $14, children under $12 admitted free.



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