Dining With Denise Neil

Wichita’s Midwest Winefest loses its wine provider in ‘moral and ethical’ disagreement

Here’s five festivals to check out in Wichita in April 2018

FILE -- Get the chance to hear live music, see a Renaissance Fair, and try new beers and wine. (April 2018)
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FILE -- Get the chance to hear live music, see a Renaissance Fair, and try new beers and wine. (April 2018)

The organizers of Wichita’s annual Midwest Winefest, a 23-year-old fundraiser that benefits Guadalupe Clinic, will have to find a new wine distributor and some new volunteers to staff the event this year after parting ways with two of its original partners.

Standard Beverage, a Wichita liquor distributor that has provided the wines for the event’s “grand tasting” since Winefest started in 1996, will not work with the festival this year, said the company’s chief financial officer, Angie Wilhelm. Though they’d planned to continue the partnership indefinitely, she said, the company took issue with a recent decision made by the executive director of the festival’s organizer and beneficiary, Guadalupe Clinic, not to invite back certain restaurants and bars to participate in the Winefest this year.

Among those businesses, she said the company learned, were bars and restaurants that had an LGBTQ clientele.

The Guadalupe Clinic, part of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita, provides medical services to uninsured people in the community. The Midwest Winefest is the clinic’s biggest fundraiser and, its leaders say, it brings in about $450,000 each year.

Standard Beverage has been one of the event’s major donors.

“At Standard Beverage we support practices and beliefs that promote diversity and in being inclusive to individual businesses and other organizations,” Wilhelm said. “We just felt like that was unfortunately something we could not move forward with.”

David Gear, the executive director for Guadalupe Clinic, said that his office did decide this year not to invite businesses to participate whose practices were “morally and ethically” at odds with the Catholic Church’s values. It wasn’t only LGBTQ bars and restaurants that were part of the discussion, he said. Though he declined to list specific businesses, he said that only “three or four vendors out of hundreds” would not be asked back to participate this year.

“We do not feel as a Catholic Diocese and organization that we can put those establishments on posters and flyers and publications that have to do with the Winefest because they don’t morally and ethically align with Catholic morals and principles,” he said.

The Wichita Chapter of the American Institute of Wine & Food, another founding partner of the event, also has pulled out of this year’s event. That group’s chairman, Mark Douglass, said that although some individuals in the group took issue with the Guadalupe Clinic decision, that wasn’t the main factor in AIWF’s decision to part ways with the Winefest. AIWF had long provided volunteers for the Winefest’s Thursday-night Old Town Walkabout and also had put on the Friday-night wine dinners.

“We’re a very small nonprofit, and we’re trying to focus on projects that are more impactful to our mission,” Douglass said. “Winefest had kind of moved beyond us.”

Douglass and Wilhelm both stressed that despite pulling out from the Winefest, their organizations fully supported the Guadalupe Clinic mission.

“It was a very difficult decision and one that we didn’t take lightly, especially because the Guadalupe Clinic, they do very good things,” Wilhelm said.

It’s against the law for wine to be donated, but each year, Standard Beverage would help the Winefest come up with a list of wines for the grand tasting, which the festival would purchase from a local liquor store. Standard Beverage would then reimburse the Winefest up to an agreed upon amount, Wilhelm said. She declined to share the amount that Standard Beverage contributed.

Gear said the clinic itself serves all people who walk through the door, regardless of their sexual orientation or personal beliefs. The decision not invite back certain vendors came solely from his office, he said, and although he was sorry to learn of Standard Beverage’s decision, he said that other liquor distributors were lined up to take their place for the 2019 Midwest Winefest.

“We are thankful for AIWF and Standard Beverage’s participation. We are moving forward with the three-day event without their participation and we plan on having a bigger and better event than ever before,” he said.

Among last year’s Midwest Winefest participants was XY, a gay bar at 235 N. Mosley. The bar was one of the stops on last year’s Old Town Walkabout.

Co-owner Chad Porter said that he frequently invites charities to use his bar as a stop on fundraising pub craws, and Midwest Winefest was no exception. He said he appreciated the stance Standard Beverage was taking and that all of Wichita’s liquor distributors had been helpful and supportive of his business over the years.

He said he respects the Guadalupe Clinic’s right to make its own decisions about who it wants to do business with.

“If an organization doesn’t want to have us involved because we allow the LGBT community to come in and because we promote ourselves as a gay club, then that’s their choice,” he said.

Standard Beverage was founded by Wichita native Leslie Rudd, who died early last year at age 76.

This year’s Midwest Winefest is scheduled for April 25-27, culminating with the grand tasting at Century II.