SoBeWFF: Tips for Conquering Grand Tasting Village

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The true heart of the Food Network South Beach Wine & Food Festival, which starts tomorrow and continues through the weekend is the Whole Foods Market Grand Tasting Village. Encompassing several blocks on the beach along Ocean Drive, the GTV features wine and food tastings, celebrity appearances, and live entertainment. To help you get the most out of the experience, we asked Devin Padgett, managing director of the event, to give the inside scoop on everything you need to know to navigate the village.

Prepare for the day.
Most people visiting the GTV don't know the event is held in giants tents on the sand. That means no air conditioning, and you're walking on the beach all day. So dress accordingly. That means sensible shoes. "Sure, you want to wear the Manolos, but you're going to regret it," Padgett says.

Wear plenty of sunscreen, because many exhibits are outdoors among the tents. Expect wind, and don't rule out rain. Basically be prepared for a day at the beach.

Travel light. Don't bring a big bag. After all, you'll receive a tote to stash all of your giveaways and goodies anyway. What you should bring: "Your ID, lip balm, a camera, and sunscreen is really all you need," Padgett recommends. Be aware of your valuables, because the festival is crowded, and with crowds come opportunities for pickpockets -- even in the safest and most fun environments.

Make a game plan.
Before venturing to the GTV, take a look at the festival's website, 2012.sobefest.com. Make sure the celebrity chef you want to see is appearing the day you're attending.

Each tent has about 100 partners. That means you have about 200 exhibitors to get through. There's lots to experience. Padgett has a strategy: "If I were taking you to the GTV, the first thing we would do is go all the way to the south end. Then we'd work our way back north. Once the tents start rocking in the early afternoon, we'll take a break and head back to the village.

Also, note that all food is served on the perimeter of the tents, and the stations are pretty evenly spaced. Expect to stand in line. So get a pour, have a cocktail in hand, and be patient.

Drink smartly.
Many attendees get caught up in the excitement of having so many food and beverage options. If you're going to down three rum cocktails, chug a beer, and then drink some wine, well, you won't be feeling great.

Begin with a cocktail. Get into your whites; roll over to your reds. For every alcoholic drink, have a bottle of water.

Take tasting notes. You'll drink a lot of great stuff, and taking notes is the only way to remember what you had. Explore new wines and find new favorites.

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