The Founders’ Grand Tasting — the centerpiece of the four-day UNLVino, which begins April 9 — will take on a new look in this, the 40th anniversary of the event. Instead of being held in a hotel ballroom, as has been the case in many of the previous years, it’ll be in the Keep Memory Alive Events Center at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health near downtown.
And it’ll be both inside and outside, to accommodate food by 20 local restaurants, four food trucks and student chefs from the UNLV, as well as a beer garden, sake village, entertainment and a pop-up gallery.
And, yes, it’s just one of the four events of this year’s UNLVino.
Things will kick off with Sip &Savor at 7 p.m. (6 p.m. for VIP) April 9 at Spago at the Forum Shops at Caesars. Hosted by Wolfgang Puck, the event will involve Puck meet-and-greets and wine and food from his six local restaurants. It’ll be followed by BAR-b-q from 7 to 10 p.m. April 10 at the Garden of the Gods Pool at Caesars Palace, with food and drink from local businesses. The venerable Bubble-Licious — an evening of Champagnes and sparkling wines, with small plates from The Venetian and Palazzo, will follow, from 7 to 10 p.m. April 11 on the Doge’s Palace Plaza at The Venetian. It’ll all culminate with the Grand Tasting on April 12.
For their part, UNLV students have been preparing for the event since the semester started. Some 24 students are enrolled in the UNLVino management class at the university, but they’re being joined by volunteers to total a student workforce of about 600.
Mohsen Azizsoltani, the professor who teaches the UNLVino management class, said students enrolled in the class are hand-picked for it. Only about seven have a culinary concentration, he said, with the rest in aspects of hotel management.
“They started, actively, at the beginning of the semester,” Azizsoltani said. The weekly classes, he said, initially concentrated on planning, soliciting supplies, planning the menu and testing the recipes. They’re moving on to preparation and serving, to an estimated 3,000 to 3,500 people at the Grand Tasting.
Food is solicited from suppliers and vendors, Azizsoltani said, as well as some restaurants and bakeries. The events-management team works on recruiting student volunteers. Sales managers and auction managers all have their duties.
“These are all different teams that work on different areas,” he said. “Where they’re needed, they can switch back and forth.
“All of the students in the class are required to find donations for our auction. We’ve got amazing donations this year. The auction usually brings in very significant revenue.”
That revenue — not only from the auction, but from all of the events — benefits students through scholarships at UNLV. Since UNLVino began, it has raised millions of dollars for scholarships in UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration.
But UNLVino helps them in other ways
“This is a great experience for them,” Azizsoltani said. “They would never get a chance like this, to serve so many people at once. And it helps them get jobs when they have it on their resume.”
The volunteers, too, see the value of the event, he said.
“We have so many students apply for this management class after they volunteer for one year,” he said. “They see the value of being involved in the event.”
So does Mitch Preston, a vice president at Rodney Strong Vineyards, who has been participating in UNLVino, on behalf of several vintners, since 1991.
“From a vintner’s perspective, you are able to see a lot of consumers who are interested in wine in a very, very large setting,” Preston said. “You’re able to touch and get your products in the hands of many different discerning consumers in one evening, which is a big deal. You’re trying to get the brand out there — especially new items, new releases, wines that are just becoming available. Oftentimes, because the price points are a bit high, people wouldn’t go out and try those wines. We can showcase them at an event like this.
“It really is a neat thing to see how this has all evolved. It’s one of those unique things, that it ties in with the college, and it’s just got so much synergy. Colleagues in other parts of the country can’t get their heads around it, it’s so unique.”
Azizsoltani said enthusiasm among the students involved is high and for good reason.
“It’s going to be fantastic,” he said. “We’re really excited.”
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0474.