- January 30, 2017
WINDERMERE If you’re not a wine connoisseur now, you would be after attending Windermere Wine & Dine.
Now in its fifth year, the Wine & Dine is considered one of the town’s signature events for four years running. It also has sold out consistently since its inception.
The story behind the event and its success, though, starts with the Windermere Elementary School Mustang Education Fund.
“We had to develop our story of why we were creating this event,” said CT Allen, one of the event’s primary organizers. “It was back when schools were getting budgets slashed and technology was becoming a crucial learning tool in the classrooms. So, parents were stepping up to fund those needs and advancements even if the school system couldn’t. Folks rally around initiatives to enhance children’s lives, and then we added in the story to also help our community become stronger for families through some of the town of Windermere volunteer committees that really did have revenue sources.”
The first year was all about figuring out how to put the puzzle pieces together to create a successful event. When pitching the event to local restaurants, Allen prayed they would get at least 10 on board the first year and sell 200 tickets.
Instead, 13 restaurants signed on, 350 tickets were sold, and the success continued. This year, the event again is sold out, and organizers expect more than 1,000 people, 30 restaurants and eight wine suppliers.
“We had to turn restaurants away this year, which you never want to do, but compared to the first year, when we were begging restaurants to come on board to now, that’s a wonderful problem to have,” she said.
Attendees can peruse the Town Hall and mingle while sipping various wines and tasting the best dishes that 30 local restaurants have to offer. Some restaurants also will offer samplings of craft beers and cocktails.
Running such a largely successful event in the heart of a small town takes much planning, coordination and effort on the parts of five key players.
Craig Lopus, of Tim’s Wine Market, handles recruitment of the wine vendors, while Carin Anderson and Kelley Duell take care of the event’s social media. Debi Lake coordinates restaurants, and Allen works with Town Manager Robert Smith and Public Works Director Scott Brown to coordinate operations.
After a few years, they have streamlined the process and do most everything almost entirely through texts and emails.
Operations begin in June, when emails and phone calls are sent out to restaurants and wine suppliers. Priority typically goes to restaurants who participated the year before.
And with the collaboration of community partners, restaurants, sponsors and attendees, Windermere Wine & Dine has donated more than $250,000 to the town’s charities.
THE NEW BENEFICIARY
New this year is a specialty grant to commemorate Windermere Wine & Dine’s fifth year. The Wine & Dine Outreach Grant will be awarded to an organization in the greater Central Florida area. The first beneficiary is Impact Families, which works to provide assistance to homeless families.
“We thought, ‘We’re doing a lot for our community and the school, but it’s time that we look a little bit outside our borders,’” Allen said. “It really was bouncing around ideas of, what charity impacts all of the (Central Florida) community? We wanted something that touches everyone, and obviously it’s homelessness. Our platform when we started this event was about helping children and families, and that’s why we chose Impact Families.”
Aside from seeing the impact the event has had on the town and its residents through the funds raised, Allen said there’s always a sheer joy of watching attendees laughing, mingling and enjoying themselves during it all.
“When I’m walking the site the night of, it really is satisfying that we did create this, and it wasn’t just us — the town totally embraced it,” Allen said. “We are very blessed that this event kind of hit the road and everyone loves it.”