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Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Discount Code for the 2014 Key West Food & Wine Festival

Don’t have your tickets yet for the upcoming Key West Food & Wine Festival January 22-26? Well, I have a treat for you—a discount code for 10% off Duval UNCORKED or the VIP Pass. If you know me well, you won't be surprised that I managed to find a “coupon” for the festival, and I have permission to share it with you!

The signature event on Saturday night, Duval Uncorked, will be a gastronomical experience like no other. An upscale twist on the popular pub-hopping Duval Crawl, Uncorked is a mile-long food and wine tasting down the main drag in Old Town. Hundreds of participants stroll past the historic Keys’ architecture and through chic boutiques, eclectic art galleries and hidden inns.

Each of the 40-plus stops on the route holds a surprise from conch chowder to cabernet sorbet to shots with the local drag queens. On-hand to answer questions will be visiting winemakers like Hugh Chapelle from Quivira Vineyards and owners such as Norm Yost from Flying Goat Cellars, Teri Kight from Quivira and Chuck Easley from T-Vine Cellars. It’s one big adventure, and I’m counting down the days.
The VIP Pass is the golden ticket to the long sun-soaked weekend of festivities. It includes the Kick Off Your Flip Flops Barefoot Beach Party, the Save the Turtles Grand Tasting, Coconut Bowling at Blue Heaven,  Pop Up Wine Tastings (VIP only), Seminars (VIP only) and Duval UNCORKED. New this year, the Pop Up Wine Tastings offer VIPs a chance to sample limited-production wines from Santa Barbara County California paired with local cuisine. Central Coast Wine & Food is collaborating with several Key West restaurants to bring you these enticing treats.

VIPs will also be able to choose from one of these exclusive seminars: How to Prepare Peruvian Ceviche, Key West “Legal Rum,” History of the Original Key Lime Pie or A Taste of Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir. Mike Cohen, a Certified Sommelier from Charleston, will be overseeing these fun educational opportunities. Reserved strictly for VIPs, these seminars will not be open to the public.

Now, how do you save 10% off UNCORKED and the VIP Pass? Just enter the code KWFWF in the promotion code box once you select how many tickets you would like. Buy them now before they're gone! See you in Key West on the 22nd!

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Key West Food & Wine Festival 2014 Sneak Peek

Are you ready for the 2014 Key West Food & Wine Festival? Here's a sneak peek of what's in store this year! The three main events are back this year: Kick Off Your Flip Flops Beach Party, Grand Tasting and Duval "Uncorked." These popular soirees have sold out in the past, so make sure you've got your fingers ready to click "buy now" on your faves as soon as they're up for grabs. 

This year, the 5th Annual Grand Tasting will be held on the pier of the Fort Jefferson Museum between Turtle Kraals and Half Shell Raw Bar. Located on the Historic Key West Bight, this deep-water harbor was once the heart of the working waterfront.

Here in the turtle kraals (watery corrals) green sea turtles were kept near the Thompson turtle cannery before being exported as delicacy around the world. While the booming turtle industry helped build Key West, the rate of harvest wasn't sustainable. The Endangered Species Act of 1973 made it illegal to remove a green turtle of any size from U.S. waters.

Honoring the island's rich and complex history, the festival has partnered with the Florida-based Sea Turtle Conservancy for this year's Grand Tasting. They'll be sampling the recently-released Sea Turtle Reserve Red and Sea Turtle Reserve White wines, a special-edition series by the Weibel Family Vineyards of Lodi, California. 

The winery worked in conjunction with the Sea Turtle Conservancy to raise awareness and support for the protection of threatened and endangered sea turtles. Part of the proceeds from the Sea Turtle Selections will be dedicated to the conservancy. The festival also be donating a portion of the proceeds from the Grand Tasting to this worthy non-profit.

If you want to get all the insider info on the festival, sign up for their Juiced Newsletter.

Related Posts:

Weekend Getaway: Island Party at the Key West Food and Wine Festival

2012 Key West Food & Wine Festival

Friday, January 3, 2014

What It's Like to Live in the Upper Florida Keys

Once you reach the end of the 18-mile stretch of asphalt tethering the Florida Keys to the rest of the world, you’ll find that life moves to the tempo of a reggae song. The archipelago is perched on an ancient coral reef, nestled between the aquamarine waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Florida Bay. Small-town island living is both what initially draws people here  and, later, what anchors them. Most residents, after they tell you how they came and fell in love with the Keys, will conclude: “I just never left.”

The enchantment starts in Key Largo and Islamorada. Known as the Upper Keys, these islands sit at the top of the chain, which is connected by a series of 42 bridges. Needless to say, water is the attraction. “The cusp of our community either boats, fishes or dives, so water amenities and access are important,” says Joy Martin, broker and owner of Marr Properties and American Caribbean Real Estate. The 33-mile-long island of Key Largo is bordered by John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to the east, which is home to North America’s only living  barrier reef and is a big draw for divers. To the west is Everglades National Park, easily accessible to boaters. A look in the canals that weave around the islands reveals manatees, spiny lobsters and mangrove snappers.

Bill and Kim Cook, dive enthusiasts from California, came looking for a second home. Key Largo’s status as the diving capital of the world drew the couple in — it was perfect for pursuing their underwater-photography hobby. “We dive here regularly and looked at homes several years ago,” Bill says. “Last year, the prices dropped dramatically, so we thought it would be a good long-term investment, as well as a fun place to live.”

An airy four-bedroom home, with 20-foot-high pine ceilings and a mosaic outdoor bar, proved too much for the Cooks to resist. One of the selling points that sealed the deal was the home’s location on Adams Waterway, a man-made shortcut from ocean to bay called “the cut.” “We enjoy watching the boat traffic going by,” Bill says. “We’ll go out for a sunset cruise and catch some fish for dinner.”

Spread over four lots in Angler’s Park, a community known for homes perched atop 15-foot coral walls, the property was a bargain at $1 million.

Located an hour south of Miami, Key Largo is the epicenter of the Upper Keys. Chain supermarkets, discount stores, pharmacies and professional offices are all centrally located. “We have everything we need, but if you’re expecting Neiman Marcus, you’re not going to find it here,” Bill says. “It’s a very casual lifestyle.”

Most of the restaurants are still funky independents. The Fish House is a mainstay for the daily catch. At lunchtime, Mrs. Mac’s Kitchen causes mini traffic jams with its down-home cooking that’s easy on the wallet, and  Snapper’s oceanfront tiki bar is a favorite local gathering spot every Thursday.
With the Florida Keys’ tourism-driven economy and temperate climate — the Upper Keys have never hit 32 or 100 degrees — most buyers are shopping for second homes. Northerners want winter residences, and Floridians seek summer getaways. Smart homeowners rent the properties out the rest of the year for upward of $2,500 a month for a waterfront unit.

However, Key Largo is also part bedroom community for Miamians who work in the city; it has more full-time residents than neighboring Islamorada. A single-family home on a dry lot — not on the ocean, bay or canal — in the Key Largo Beach neighborhood (a mix of old and new homes) starts at $240,000. The price more than doubles for a three-bedroom canal-front home in the prestigious Port Largo community, to $600,000.
Neighboring Islamorada is a village with four narrow keys: Plantation, Windley, Upper Matecumbe and Lower Matecumbe. Known as the sport-fishing capital of the world, the area is extremely popular with anglers, who find ocean and bay access via a series of eight bridges. “Islamorada is a bit more upscale with more valuable properties,” Martin says. “You have the area called Millionaires Row on Plantation Key, where award-winning Hollywood producer Jon Landau [of Avatar fame] purchased the four-acre oceanfront estate Bali Hai for $5.8 million.”
Two years ago, Rick and Cindy Freeburg relocated from Miami to Plantation Lake Estates when Rick became CEO of Mariners Hospital. They bought a three-bedroom home on a lagoon for just under $1 million. “We used to visit the Keys regularly, so when the job opportunity came, I felt like we hit the lotto,” Rick says. “We love being in a small-town atmosphere. The servers know our names at the Islamorada Fishing Club, and it’s been the source of many of our closest friends.” He insists that being on the water is what made the deal so sweet, adding, “We’ll boat to restaurants, especially Island Grill. We snorkel and fish, or we’ll just go out for a picnic, anchoring at Alligator Lighthouse.”
Laurie Wickham, owner of Gallery Morada, and her husband, Dick Hagood, a backcountry fisherman, are 29-year residents living on Upper Matecumbe — Islamorada’s downtown.
The village’s former ban on chain stores resulted in one-of-a-kind boutiques, art galleries and upscale restaurants. Although the law was recently overturned, square-footage allotments for new developments remain scarce. “It’s not as commercial as Key Largo. I drive 20 miles every week to Publix, but I’d rather live here,” Wickham says.
She is often spotted bicycling or walking along the pedestrian-friendly Old Highway, which runs parallel to U.S. Highway 1. The shade of old-growth poinciana and buttonwood trees creates a quiet refuge, interrupted by the occasional wild peacock call. “Islamorada feels more like island living to me.”
This laid-back Upper Keys lifestyle has tempted homeowners for years, yet few get to indulge. Since the area is environmentally sensitive, building during the housing boom that peaked in 2006 was mostly limited to redevelopment of existing properties. For anyone shopping the real-estate market now, Martin says, “There’s confidence buying where there’s not a glut of inventory.” However, “As the inventory is absorbed, there will be fewer deals.”
Real Estate: What Your Money Can Buy Now + The Upper Keys

$375,000 — This four-bedroom single--family home on Plantation Key has a sunroom, fenced yard, outdoor deck and quick access to a boat ramp. Recent renovations include a new metal roof, custom cabinets and granite countertops.
$1,200,000 — Located in the private Port Antigua development in Islamorada, this four-bedroom single--family home is on the main canal, minutes from the bay or ocean. The wraparound porches, concrete dock, chickee hut and community beach make it perfect for outdoor living.

$2,500,000 — This three-story, 3,874-square-foot estate in Key Largo offers sunset views of the Florida Bay and a 40-foot dock with two boatlifts. It overlooks a large pool, grand patio, hot tub and sandy beach.

For more details, contact Joy Martin, American Caribbean Real Estate and Marr Properties, 305.394.7866,

Originally published in Florida Travel + Life magazine