Get Your Grape On

Cincinnati International Wine Festival celebrates 25 years

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1991, a group of wine lovers, including founder Russ Wiles, partnered with public radio station WGUC to create the Cincinnati International Wine Festival, an event aimed at raising money for the public radio system and to promote wine culture in Cincinnati. Flash forward 25 years and the festival has become a huge three-day juggernaut featuring more than 800 old- and new-world wines from more 130 wineries worldwide.

The festival is also an impressive nonprofit. According to Laura Ginn, executive director of the Cincinnati International Wine Festival, as of 2014 more than $4.2 million has been raised to benefit more than 30 local charities in the areas of arts, education, health and human services, as well as for children’s programs in Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky.

Money is partially raised through ticket sales, which give attendees access to all variety of events, from winery dinners at a handful of area restaurants to grand tastings and a charity auction and luncheon. And since there are so many events associated with the festival — which runs Thursday, March 5 through Saturday, March 7 — here are some guidelines to help you plan your wine weekend.

Get your tickets now:

The weekend starts on Thursday with 11 exclusive winery dinners at some of our finest local restaurants, including La Poste Eatery, The Presidents Room and Daveed’s NEXT. Seating is extremely limited and tickets ($125-$175) sell out quickly. Each restaurant is paired with a visiting wine personality from a premium winery, like Robert Mondavi, Heitz Wine Cellars and Raptor Ridge Winery, and the chefs prepare three to five courses, each with a complimentary wine. 

School yourself for the Grand Tasting sessions at the Duke Energy Convention Center:

Each of the more than 130 wineries from 13 countries will be sampling from six to eight wines on both Friday and Saturday, so you’ll want to know in advance what you’re in for. Have no fear, just head to the festival website (winefestival.com) and download the super informative tasting guide; the list is broken down by festival exhibitors, with room for tasting notes. The Grand Tastings are the perfect way for beginners as well as experts to try new wines, old favorites and gain knowledge from the winemakers and winery representatives. Tickets for the Grand Tastings range from $65 to $115.

Wear your stretchy pants:

Besides wine, there will be plenty of food on offer. Look for samples from pasta and cheese companies as well as chefs from Kroger who will be preparing food on site. Students from the Midwest Culinary Institute at Cincinnati State will also be presenting a selection of their fine pastries.

Make a weekend of it:

Almost all of the festival’s tastings and events have been conveniently located within walking distance of the Central Business District, and seven downtown hotels, including the official festival hotel, the Hilton Cincinnati Netherland Plaza, are offering discount rates and packages for the weekend. “This is the largest wine festival between Chicago and New York,” Ginn says, “and we have people coming from all over Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, Michigan and Pennsylvania.” More than 6,000 attended the Grand Tastings last year.

Check out wine world royalty:

The 25th anniversary of the festival calls for some very special guests. “We are very pleased and honored to have Gina Gallo of Gallo Signature Series as well as her husband Jean-Charles Boisset of Boisset Family Estates, France’s largest producing winery family,” Ginn says. “She is from the Ernest and Julio Gallo family, America’s largest volume producing winery. She is the granddaughter of Julio, and she married Charles in 2009, making the merger of two of the biggest families in the wine industry. 

“For them to come to Cincinnati and celebrate the festival is really huge for Cincinnati and the wine scene here because normally they don’t travel or do any sort of events together.”

The couple will act as the overseers of the festival, so you’ll be able to catch a glimpse of the glamorous duo all weekend.

Looking for a more intimate wine-themed event?

Purchase a ticket for Saturday’s charity luncheon/auction ($125) for the more wine savvy at the Hilton’s Hall of Mirrors, where you’ll enjoy a champagne reception, including brunch bites prepared by Orchids executive chef Todd Kelly, before sitting down to a three-course lunch at tables hosted by winery personalities. You’ll be able to bid on exceptional wine-themed items such as first-growth Bordeaux lots, large format wine bottles, a trip to California wine country and an opportunity to have renowned local chef Jean-Robert de Cavel cook dinner in your home. 


The CINCINNATI INTERNATIONAL WINE FESTIVAL takes place March 5-7 at various restaurants and venues. For a full schedule of events and to purchase tickets, visit winefestival.com.


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