Swirl, Sip and Savor

Apr 2, 2024 | Businesses, Communities, Walton & Beyond

Friends having wine by the bay.

Two of our favorite restaurants on HWY 331 introduce new wine selections

By Wendy O. Dixon

The Bay and Farm & Fire restaurants, located across the street from each other on Highway 331, are both owned by nationally recognized restaurateur Chef Jim Shirley. The Bay features mouth-watering Southern gulf coast cuisine, sushi, a 12-draft beer system, excellent wine selections and inventive bar-crafted cocktails. Farm & Fire is inspired by the unique meeting places found in every culture, with a diverse menu and dining experience that is high-quality but approachable. Meant to be shared among friends, the rotating menu of seasonal items pairs with a carefully curated selection of dynamic cocktails, craft beer, wine, sake, whiskeys and more.

A headshot of Joyce Russell

Since 2014, Joyce Russell has worked for Chef Shirley in various positions that include purchasing wines. Joyce and her husband, Edd Fleckenstein, and partners ran Fermentations wine bar in Seaside from 1997 until 2005. “I’m not a sommelier,” she explains. “I just know what I like and hopefully know what the general public likes. And we try to cater to that.”

In addition to the award-winning food specialties, Shirley’s restaurants have won numerous awards for their wine selections, including the coveted Wine Spectator Award of Excellence. Great Southern Café in Seaside has received awards for the last six years,  45 Central Wine Bar was awarded all four years it was open in Seaside as well as Farm & Fire winning its first award last year.

pouring champagne in a flute

To compete for Wine Spectator’s Award of Excellence, a restaurant’s wine list should offer at least 90 selections of well-chosen quality producers. While The Bay had close to 45 wines on its menu, Joyce got busy over the last few months, adding 45 more wines to be eligible for the prestigious award, as well as tweaking and adding new wines to Farm & Fire to meet eligibility.

Many factors are considered when selecting a well-balanced wine menu, including varietals, regions, food pairings, price points and of course, the taste. “The first thing I did was to take advice from different wine distributors, to see what their biggest sellers are and what they know is moving,” Joyce explains. “We try to not sell wines that you can buy at a grocery store or outlet. We narrow it down to boutique wines, and pick from regions in California, Oregon, Washington State, and in Europe – Italy, Spain, Austria. One exception we sell is the popular Champagne, Veuve Cliquot.” 

Glass of white wine held into sunset

Joyce and her team also research what makes the cut with Wine Spectator and Wine Enthusiast Magazines. “We were pleased to find out that when we put our list together, two of our picks were on the top 100 list. I didn’t even know that at first,” she adds. “We research what the trends are. Rosé is popular now. Everyone is into pinot grigio and sauvignon blanc from Australia. Some new sparkling wines are hot, like Prosecco and Cava. And the popularity in Champagne has risen in the last two or three years.” 

Of course, tasting the wine is part of the job. “It’s really hard to sell something if you don’t taste it,” she laughs. “And the nose is important, too. We don’t want to taste something that smells like dirty socks, which has happened.”

After making their selections a little at a time, the wine list for both restaurants is finally in place, with reds, whites, blends and sparkling, and prices that range from reasonable to extravagant. Most bottles are in the  $40-$75 range, with a higher-end Opus One, from Napa Valley, Calif., which is $425 at The Bay. For a real splurge, try a bottle of Colgin Cellars from Napa Valley, a 2013 red blend ($600) available at Farm & Fire.  “Anything from Napa that is an older vintage will be pretty good,” Joyce adds.

Woman gesturing cheers by the bay.

Farm & Fire, before its revamp, originally had an Italian feel, which included the wine list. “But now we are more diverse,” Joyce adds. “So you can try wines from Oregon, California, Austria, France, Washington State and Spain.”

If clever wine names tease your taste buds, you might relate to Joyce, who picked one wine by name alone. “I liked the simple label on Cattleya Belly of the Whale by Pisoni in the Sonoma Coast, Calif.,” she confesses. “I thought, this is The Bay, it’s by the water. How can you not get excited about that? At $125, the pinot noir is on the higher end. But luckily, I was blown away at how good it is.” 


Old World White Wines Tasting & Pairing Night is April 18th. 
Guests will join us at the copper bar for an intimate gathering to talk and taste through four exceptional Old World White Wines. A small prix fixe menu of thoughtfully prepared pairings will round out each tasting, with specialty cocktails available for purchase in addition to the flight.
Limited tickets are available: https://www.farmandfiresouthwalton.com/#events


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The Bay

At the foot of the HWY 331 bridge, The Bay is a family-friendly waterfront restaurant features mouth-watering Southern gulf coast cuisine, sushi, a 12-draft beer system, excellent wine selections, and inventive bar-crafted cocktails.

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