In its 45th year, UNLVino is going back to its roots.
The oenophile’s-dream benefit for students in the hospitality program at UNLV was born in 1974 in Southern Wine &Spirits’ (now Southern Glazer’s) warehouse, drawing a couple of hundred people. With a current attendance of more than 6,000 it’s become decidedly more glamorous; this year’s UNLVino will kick off with Bubble-Licious on April 11 in the Keep Memory Alive Events Center in downtown Las Vegas and move on April 12 to Sake Fever at Red Rock Resort. But, in recognition of this as a benchmark-anniversary year, the culminating Grand Tasting on April 13 at the Mirage Event Center will take a look back to the Las Vegas of 45 years ago.
“We’ll have photos dating to 1974,” said Michael Severino, director of marketing and special events for Southern Glazer’s. “We’ll do some live interviews with people who were involved with UNLVino back in the day, and just make it fun.”
A look back at menus of the era, posted online by UNLV Special Collections and Archives, finds a restaurant called Barrymore’s (not to be confused with Gen 3 Hospitality’s current The Barrymore at the Royal Resort) at the original MGM Grand, which opened in 1973. The menu leaned heavily to “Continental” fare, with such dishes as Chateaubriand Bouquetiere for two, $32 (at one of the few local restaurants to still serve Chateaubriand for two, it recently was listed at $140), and Lobster Newberg En Casserole, $12. Gourmet rooms of the era considered herring a must-have; on Barrymore’s menu, it was Icelandic herring, $2.50.
The Flamingo Hilton &Tower of that era had the Beef Barron restaurant with a trail-drive theme, a menu blurb referencing the “beef barons” of the Old West before saying the restaurant was dedicated to “our Barron,” Barron Hilton. For $12, would-be rustlers and wranglers could get The Barron’s Sirloin Steak, “broiled on hot coals” and served with a salad with the Barron’s dressing, vegetables and “toasted cheese-topped sourdough bread.” A chocolate souffle was $1.75.
But Severino said organizers researching the Las Vegas of 1974 found that other things haven’t changed all that much. The headliners, he said, included Cher, Elton John, Rod Stewart and Barry Manilow.
“It’s amazing,” he said. “They’re still going.”
And so is UNLVino and its enduring motto, “Take a sip for scholarship.”
The event was born when Jerry Vallen, then dean of UNLV’s College of Hotel Administration, approached Larry Ruvo, now senior managing director of Southern Glazer’s, because he saw a need for wine education for students and the community as a whole. An educational component remains; the three main events are interactive, with numerous opportunities to ask questions of Champagne, sake, wine, craft beer and cocktail experts.
All three events also have culinary components; the carving of a 300-pound fresh tuna, provided by Naked Fish’s Sushi &Grill, has become a traditional part of Sake Fever. The UNLVino umbrella also boosts education not only in the money raised for scholarships — over $1 million, organizers say — but UNLVino is a three-credit university class. The 30 or so students enrolled in it each year manage the organization, planning, marketing and supervision for all three events. The students also prepare food for the Grand Tasting, and many more students volunteer to ensure things go smoothly.
New to UNLVino this year are learning discovery courses leading up to the event, on such topics as sake, sparkling wines and how food affects the flavor of wine.
Severino noted that UNLVino has boosted Las Vegas’ ever-more-spectacular culinary industry by preparing students to be culinary professionals.
“We’ve done so much great work with UNLVino in the community,” he said, “and it just seems to keep growing as the years go by.”