Cincy wine festival kicks off year of activities with virtual tasting

Wine kits on sale through March 17 for March 18 interactive event

Cincinnati International Wine Festival organizers had hoped as recently as last October to hold the festival as normal in 2021, with thousands of people sampling and learning about hundreds of wines from all over the world in a festival atmosphere.

“Once we saw the (COVID-19) spikes anticipated for the winter, we knew it wouldn’t be feasible,” said Kelly Weissmann, executive director of the festival.

Instead, the 2021 festival will take place in stages. The Russ Miles Memorial Golf Tournament has been delayed to August, the Winery Dinner Series to September, and the big in-person festival to October. But the kick-off event will be the Cincy Wine Fest@Home virtual event on Thursday, March 18. According to Weissmann, the decision to hold a virtual teaser event in March was about more than simply returning a sense of normalcy to people who look forward to this festival every year. The fest is a nonprofit that typically raises hundreds of thousands of dollars for over 30 local charities every year.

“Our charities have been the hardest hit (by the pandemic),” she said. “Food banks, health and human services. We started thinking about what we could do to keep money flowing to these charities while keeping people safe and giving them something of what they expect from the festival. We looked around and saw that some people were having success with virtual events.”

The Wine Fest@Home will be an interactive Zoom event where experts from all over the world will give demos on cocktail mixology, wine and cheese pairings, and other topics. To make the event more personally engaging to folks at home, each expert will be assigned a “household,” with 24 participants each (there will be 400 households overall).

“We’ve been doing this for 30 years so we have a strong network,” Weissmann said. “We reached out to wineries that normally would’ve participated and we signed up the first 18 who committed.”

Each expert will give a talk lasting approximately 30 to 40 minutes, with a Q&A afterward. Weissmann said there is no specific end time for the event.

“It will really depend on how talkative people are and how long they keep asking questions,” she said. “At the actual event, people really talk to the experts, so we expect the same for virtual.”

Weissmann said that when people buy tickets, they can request to be placed into the same household with friends, but there’s no guarantee.

“There are friends out there who haven’t been in the same room for awhile, so it can be a girls’ night in,” she said.

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When you buy a ticket, you’ll select one of three wine kits to go with the virtual fest. The Explorer kit ($75) includes three curated, hand-picked bottles of wine, two shatter-proof, dishwasher-safe wineglasses, and a virtual tasting lead from an expert.

The Enthusiast kit ($150) includes everything in the Explorer plus a Tito’s vodka cocktail kit, cheese samples from Murray’s Cheese, snacks, and other swag. Weissman said people can use tasting leads to purchase ingredients in advance to mix and pair along with the experts.

Finally, the Aficionado kit ($295) includes the Explorer and Enthusiast content, plus more exclusive, higher-end wines and hors d’oeuvres from Eat Well Celebrations and Feasts, a Newport-based caterer. Eat Well will also provide complimentary home delivery of the Aficionado kit for those who live within or very close to the I-275 loop. Explorer and Enthusiast kit purchasers can pick their kits up at Fueled Collective. Ohio state law prohibits the festival from shipping wine kits. Kits can be purchased up until March 17, and Aficionado kits will be delivered on March 17-18, based on zip code.

Weissmann stressed that the high-end wines in the more expensive kits are categorized as such based on quality, not rarity.

“We want people to be able to buy these wines locally,” she said. “We’re here to support our local wineries and stores like Kroger.”

In the meantime, festival organizers will keep looking ahead to October. The in-person festival is still slated to take place at the Duke Convention Center, but Weissmann said they’ve already decided to move from the third-floor grand ballroom to the first-floor exhibit halls for social distancing purposes. They’re also prepared to delay the in-person festival further if necessary.

“If the (virtual event) goes well, we might do it again later in the year if the in-person fest doesn’t happen,” Weissmann said. “We’ll keep plugging away and adapt as we need to. So far, the Enthusiast kits are trending highest in sales. We’ll keep getting creative. If you had told me a year ago that we would be holding a virtual event and people would be actually buying tickets for it, I’d have thought you were crazy.”


What: Cincy Wine Fest@Home

When: March 18, 7 p.m. Tickets on sale through March 17.

Cost: $75-$295

Explorer and Enthusiast kit pickup times: Fueled Collective, 3825 Edwards Ave., Cincinnati (Rookwood Pavilion); 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. March 17; 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. March 18

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