Dining With Denise Neil

Midwest Winefest returns this weekend despite losing sponsors over controversy

Box, bottle or can: a blind wine tasting

(FILE VIDEO -- 2017) Miami Herald wine columnist Connie Ogle was challenged to to see if she can distinguish between wine from a box, a can and a bottle.
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(FILE VIDEO -- 2017) Miami Herald wine columnist Connie Ogle was challenged to to see if she can distinguish between wine from a box, a can and a bottle.

The Midwest Winefest will happen this weekend despite the festival losing its main wine provider — as well as some other restaurant and bar participants — after its organizers decided not to invite back businesses whose practices were “morally and ethically” at odds with the Catholic Church’s values.

Among those businesses were bars and restaurants frequented by members of the LGBTQ community, including downtown gay bar XY at 235 N. Mosley, which is not on this year’s roster despite participating last year. Several other longtime participants have quit the festival in protest, but Winefest’s organizers at Guadalupe Clinic, the festival’s beneficiary, appear to have found other businesses to take their place.

In January, Standard Beverage, which had provided the wines for the event’s “grand tasting” since it started in 1996 — said it had decided to terminate the partnership because of the festival’s decision, which Standard’s partners said were at odds with the company’s beliefs and practices. Standard Beverage had been one of the event’s major donors.

At the time, Guadalupe Clinic Executive Director David Gear said that other liquor distributors were “lined up” to take Standard’s place, but since then, Gear and other organizers have declined to say who would be providing this year’s wines.

“We have many sources of wine for 2019 in addition to that which was already purchased from Standard before they elected to reevaluate all their charitable contributions,” Gear said in an e-mail. “I am reluctant to identify any of the distributors for fear of omitting one of our many new partners. We are on track to have all the wine we need from a whole host of distributors, and in fact the selection of wines to be poured are excellent and will be expanded this year.”

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. In January, a Standard Beverage spokeswoman declined to share the amount that the company usually contributed.

The three-day Winefest is an annual fundraiser for Guadalupe Clinic, part of the Catholic Diocese of Wichita. The clinic provides medical services to uninsured people in the community, and the festival is the clinic’s biggest fundraiser, bringing in about $450,000 each year. In January, Gear stressed that the clinic itself serves all people who walk through the door, regardless of their sexual orientation or personal beliefs.

The Midwest Winefest website does not list the wines that will be poured at this year’s festival, and director Andrie Krahl declined to talk to The Eagle about this year’s wine and restaurant lineup and how ticket says are going, saying that information about Midwest Winefest for prospective attendees is available at www.midwestwinefest.org. She referred all further questions to Gear, who responded to an e-mail by saying that the festival will have a “more diverse and highly rated wines from around the world than ever before” and “food from nearly 30 of the best restaurants in and around Wichita.”

Several restaurants and venues that participated last year in the Winefest’s Thursday night Old Town Walkabout, where ticketholders visit Old Town businesses for wine and food samples, opted not to return after learning of the festival’s new policy. Among them: Public at the Brickyard and the Pumphouse, both of which were stops on the Walkabout last year. Louie’s Rose Hill Cafe, which provided food for last year’s Walkabout and has been a Winefest contributor for the past six years, also opted out, as did The Wichita Eagle, which was a stop on last year’s Walkabout.

The owners of XY confirmed that they did not receive an invitation to return as a Walkabout participant this year, but it did receive a letter asking for a donation, said co-owner Chad Porter.

Louie’s Rose Hill Cafe owner Louis Foreman, who runs his restaurant with his husband, said he called the festival to explain that he would no longer be supporting the event. They were kind, he said, and invited him to still attend as a guest. He declined.

Brooke Russell, who co-owns Public at the Brickyard, said she let Gear know in a letter that her businesses would not be returning and had “decided to redirect this year’s donations to another cause that more clearly supports inclusivity and aligns with the values of our business.” Public and its sister business, The Brickyard, had been sponsors of the Walkabout for 20 years.

Russell said that the business “wholeheartedly” supports the mission of the Guadalupe Clinic and would be happy to return as sponsors if the policy changed.

Despite losing some Walkabout participants, organizers appear have signed up several new ones. A list of Walkabout venues sent out to prospective volunteers includes 6 Degrees, PourHouse ICT, Curls Gone Wild, Blue Fin, Fredo’s and Bella Luz.

Tickets are on sale for Thursday night’s Walkabout, Friday’s wine dinner at the Wichita Country Club, and Saturday’s Grand Tasting. They’re available at www.midwestwinefest.org.

Denise Neil has covered restaurants and entertainment since 1997. Her Dining with Denise Facebook page is the go-to place for diners to get information about local restaurants. She’s a regular judge at local food competitions and speaks to groups all over Wichita about dining.