Midwest Winefest to toast longtime organizers

04/18/2012 5:00 AM

04/20/2012 8:09 AM

This year’s Midwest Winefest will be even sweeter than it was last year.

Organizers have enlarged one of 2011’s most popular attractions: a new section known as “The Bubble Room,” featuring sweet treats and sparkling wines.

They’ve also signed more restaurants to the roster than they’ve had in recent years, and as usual, they’ll fill Century II with more than 350 wines from around the country, all waiting to be discovered by Wichita grape-ophiles.

“The event is about finding new things,” said festival director Rita Faires. “It’s trying the latest vintages from some of your favorites you’ve had over the years, and it’s introducing the concept of enjoying food and wine.”

Winefest, a wine-and-food sampling event now in its 17th year, is a three-day celebration that also included a sold-out Old Town Walkabout event Thursday and a series of sold-out wine dinners.

But the main event is the Grand Tasting, which is set up in Century II’s Exhibition Hall and is expected to attract around 1,500 people. It’s scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Saturday, and a $60-a-person ticket earns visitors a tasting kit and tickets that can be redeemed for 20 one-ounce pours. (That comes out to roughly three glasses of wine.)

The event also includes restaurants stationed throughout the hall, serving an array of upscale appetizers. This year’s roster is four restaurants longer than last year’s and includes popular places such as Newport Grill, P.F. Chang’s, Sweet Basil, Abuelo’s and Carrabba’s. Bubble Room sweet treat providers include Monica’s Bundt Cakes, Cafe Maurice, Sweetly Scrumptious and Dean & Deluca.

Winefest is a fundraiser for the Guadalupe Health Foundation, which supports the Guadalupe Clinic — an organization that provides health services to people who don’t have insurance. During its 17 years, Winefest has raised nearly $2.5 million for the charity.

This year’s Winefest is dedicated to the memory of Sister Kathleen Regan, who died in September at age 87. Sister Regan was the clinic’s director of stewardship and development and was a longtime key Winefest organizer. The clinic also lost its executive director, Marlene Dreiling, who died in February. She also was key to putting the event together each year.

Putting the Winefest together has been difficult without them, Faires said.

“It’s been a real struggle on a lot of different fronts,” she said. “We’ve had a double hit. We’ve sort of pulled together and decided the best thing for us to do is honor their memory and make it one of the greatest events we’ve ever had.”

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