Wine may flow, after all

Uptown wine tasting was in question this spring

Start working on your swirl, sniff and slurp technique: The annual wine tasting sponsored by Hennepin Lake Liquors may go on this year, after all.

This spring it appeared the wine tasting, an important fundraiser for Uptown-area neighborhoods, might not return for its 28th year. In mid-August, though, event organizer Pat Fleetham said he was nearly ready to announce a fall wine tasting.

Fleetham said he was “tentatively proposing” a date in October for the tasting but still needed to finalize agreements with event sponsors before he could announce a time and location.

The event in recent years had been held in early June. In March, though, Fleetham wrote in an email to neighborhood leaders there would be no spring wine tasting because a sponsor of the 2009 event “back(ed) out” of a pledged donation.

Fleetham was referring to Uptown-area developer Clark Gassen, who disputed Fleetham’s version of events when they were made public earlier this year.

Gassen said he helped arrange sponsors for the 2009 event but never agreed to make a donation himself. He described the situation as a misunderstanding and offered to help raise funds for future events.

For the neighborhood organizations that participate in the event, a year without a wine tasting could have had a significant impact on their annual budgets. The organizations keep all the revenue from ticket sales they make themselves, as well as a portion of the sales made at Hennepin Lake Liquors and at the door on the night of the event.

Fleetham said the event raised about $290,000 in 27 years “given directly to the neighborhoods.”

Neighborhood revenue varied, from a few hundred dollars in recent years for Kenwood Isles Area Association to several thousand for CARAG.

CARAG Executive Coordinator Scott Engel said earlier this year his neighborhood organization budgeted about $3,000 in ticket sales, roughly half their anticipated earnings through fundraising for all of 2010. That amounted to nearly 10 percent of the CARAG 2010 budget, Engel said in April.

Caroline Griepentrog of the Lowry Hill East Neighborhood Association said her neighborhood typically earned $3,000–$4,000 from ticket sales for the event, although that figure was slightly lower in recent years. Still, Griepentrog described wine tasting as a key source of annual revenue for support of neighborhood events and publication of The Wedge newspaper.

“It’s pretty important,” she said. “It’s probably the place where we get the biggest portion of our funds besides [The Wedge] newspaper advertising.”

“We’re really hoping that it does happen,” she added.

Fleetham said this year’s wine tasting likely would include a sponsor providing food for the event, an element that was missing in 2009. That could help bolster ticket sales, which Fleetham said were down for most neighborhoods recent years.

Hennepin Lake Liquors owner Phil Colich said in August he and Fleetham were “definitely moving forward” on plans for a wine tasting. He acknowledged feeling some concern earlier this year when it seemed he might not be able to host the event.

“You’re always concerned about that,” he said. “The neighborhood relies on it.”