Wine Fest: taste, charity and no intimidation

Posted at 11:00 AM, Feb 09, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-09 11:00:07-05

CINCINNATI -- Wine drinkers of all types can help local charities while sampling some beverages this March.

The Cincinnati International Wine Festival, scheduled March 3-5 at the Duke Energy Convention Center, will bring winemakers from around the globe together with distributors, chefs, wine aficionados and enthusiasts.

The three-day event marks the 26th annual celebration hosted by the festival, a nonprofit organization founded by the late Russ Wiles. As president of Heidelberg Distributing Co., Wiles created the festival and its eponymously titled organization hoping to bring more wines to the area while also giving back to the community.

“I think some people find wine intimidating,” said Debbie Dent, executive director for the festival. “And I think this festival helps break down those barriers and gives people an opportunity, in a very fun and non-intimidating way, to go around and try things.”

The festival kicks off March 3 with winery dinners at 12 Greater Cincinnati restaurants, including the Precinct, Carlo & Johnny and the Summit. Chefs at each restaurant will team up with winemakers from Ruffino, Robert Mondavi and other wineries who will share the stories of their wines as diners enjoy multi-course meals with wine pairings.

“You just get to be very intimate with the wine itself and how it works with the food,” Dent said.

While most of the dinners will take place March 3, a special, sold-out dinner March 2 will feature the festival’s honorary chairman, Rick Sayre of Rodney Strong Vineyards.

Sayre, vice president and director of winemaking for Rodney Strong Vineyards, is looking forward to the chance to get the word out about the company.

“It’s a great opportunity to get out in the community and let people see we’re still alive and strong and, in fact, thriving,” he said.

The festivities continue March 4 with a grand tasting event at the convention center. Grand tastings allow guests to visit booths run by winery representatives and sample from more than 700 wines. A silent auction during the grand tasting will give visitors a chance to buy the wines, as well.

The 26th annual Cincinnati International Wine Festival will be held March 3 through 5 and features winery dinners, tastings and a charity auction and luncheon. Provided

“A lot of people walk out with cases of wine that they got super good deals on,” Dent said.

For an additional cost, patrons can sample seven high-end wines in a special tasting room before the grand tasting.

The weekend wraps up March 5 with a charity auction and luncheon at the Hyatt Regency, followed by grand tasting sessions that afternoon and evening. The luncheon includes both silent and live auctions, the latter of which features prizes ranging from limited-release wine bottles to wine cellar tours and a trip to Umbria, Italy.

“It’s mainly about wine but also about travel and food, because those are the hot topics among people that enjoy wine,” Dent said.

While the size and variety of the event aren’t common to many wine festivals in the region, the charitable aspect of the event is key in making the event unique. The event is the nation’s second-longest-running wine festival that is also a charity, Dent said.

“A lot of people have no clue that this is a nonprofit,” she said.

From ticket sales to auctions, much of the organization’s proceeds go back into the community. Since 1991, the wine festival has donated $4.6 million to organizations and programs like WGUC, Crayons to Computer, Dress for Success and the Freestore Foodbank.

If You Go:
Cincinnati International Wine Festival
March 3-5
Duke Energy Convention Center, 525 Elm St., Downtown
Although some winery dinners are sold out, tickets for many festival events can be purchased online through early March. Go to