A World of Wine
For more than a quarter century, the Triangle Wine Experience has brought renowned wineries to the area for a good cause.
by Alex Dixon
When the Triangle Wine Experience tickets go on sale each year, a majority are sold within mere hours. What started as a relatively small event in 1992 that raised $50,000 has grown into a nationally renowned gathering that raised more than $2 million in 2018. The annual celebration includes winery dinners at local restaurants and a gala and auction event. Proceeds from the Triangle Wine Experience benefit the Frankie Lemmon School and Developmental Center, a Raleigh child development center that is open to all but is primarily for children with disabilities.
Achieving the scale and reputation that the Triangle Wine Experience has accomplished after 26 years has not been an easy task; it has required coordination among the dozens of participating wineries—including many esteemed California producers—and local restaurants. Even the event setup is a challenge each year, as the location of the main gala (which draws more than 600 people) is unknown until about a month before. Fortunately, event planners from the Raleigh-Durham chapter of the International Live Events Association (ILEA) make quick work of turning vacated stores into black-tie affairs. In 2017, the gala was held in the former Morrisville Field & Stream building. In 2018, it was held in the former Gander Mountain space.
“Triangle Wine Experience (TWE) has it all. Each year, the unexpected décor and entertainment add to the exciting [food and wine] experience that the TWE guests are expecting,” says Angie Wright, co-chair of ILEA’s Triangle Wine Experience Committee and owner of Chic Details Weddings & Events. “Many of the guests have been attending this event from the beginning, and wouldn’t consider missing it.”
In addition to wines and food from local chefs such as Ashley Christensen and Scott Crawford, the gala on February 2nd offers the opportunity for attendees to bid for unique experiences, like a seven-day trip to southern Africa, planned by wine tourism company Travel Sommelier, and exclusive items, like large-format bottles from the acclaimed Cirq winery.
“It’s an inspiring, energizing weekend that demonstrates how powerful we can be when we band together to do good,” says Chef Christensen, who serves as co-chair of the event.
The event will pair more than 40 local restaurants in Cary, Chapel Hill, Durham, Raleigh, and Wake Forest with visiting wineries for the wine dinners that will be held on Thursday, January 31st. And for chefs like Serge Falcoz-Vigne at North Raleigh’s St. Jacques French Cuisine, the dinners create camaraderie that lasts longer than the single night of the event and beyond the scope of a single beneficiary. Chef Falcoz-Vigne says funds have also been raised to benefit California vineyards destroyed by wildfires. “There’s solidarity. There’s people from California, people from France, people from everywhere,” he says of the wine dinners. “You can be sure [guests] will leave with so much love in their hearts. It’s a moment we all have together to raise money, so I want to make sure they understand we are proud and appreciate their support.”
For its previous wine dinner, St. Jacques, which features nearly all French wines on its menu, was paired with California’s Davis Family vineyards. Dishes included a pan-fried local lamb belly with Merguez sausage, parsnip purée, and ratatouille paired with Davis’ Zinfandel, and sautéed shrimp, polenta with a French duck confit, and chestnut foie gras sauce paired with a Pinot Noir. “They love to come to North Carolina because it’s one of their biggest markets besides California, and I just love these guys,” Falcoz-Vigne says. “I’m French, so you understand I usually think French wines are better, but what Davis Family Vineyards does is impressive. What I like is when people make wine like artisans. They don’t try to make volume; they try to make quality.”
Chef Scott Crawford’s eponymous Crawford and Son cuisine will be paired this year with the Jackson Family Wines’ Spire Collection, which includes wineries ranging from Napa Valley to Tuscany. “The Triangle Wine Experience has given us a way to connect as a community through our love of food and wine—and do so in support of the Frankie Lemmon School,” Crawford says. “It’s incredible to know that we’ve been able to make a difference in these children’s lives just by sharing our passion.”
Reynolds Family Winery
Reynolds Family Winery has been involved with Triangle Wine Experience since husband-and-wife team Steve and Suzie Reynolds launched their first wines nearly 20 years ago. “There are many charities, and this is one you feel you truly can make a difference with,” Steve Reynolds says. “As parents of three wonderful children, it’s the least we can do. North Carolina has supported us for a long time, and this is one way we can give back.” With a 9.5-acre estate in Napa Valley and ideal growing conditions for big, rich, and complex wines, Reynolds Family Winery produces just one wine from the vineyard on its property: Estate Cabernet Sauvignon. But the sourcing of grapes from other vineyards have allowed it to produce acclaimed wines that span varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot.
K. Laz Wine Collection and Laz Wine
Kerrin Laz’s wine career began in 2003 when she joined Dean and Deluca as wine buyer for its store in Washington, DC. But her interest in food and wine began long before. Laz grew up around parents who loved food; she attended UNC–Chapel Hill, where she landed a job at the historic Southern restaurant Crook’s Corner. In 2015, Laz launched her own wine shop, tasting room, and store, K. Laz Wine Collection in Yountville, California. Just a year later, Laz then started her own wine label, Laz Wine. In addition to her involvement with Triangle Wine Experience, Laz also founded Inspire Napa Valley in 2017, which has raised more than $1 million through wine-centered events to advance Alzheimer’s research and enhance care for those living with the disease.
Davis Family Vineyards
Davis Family Vineyards lives up to its name. Since Guy and Judy Davis founded the winery in 1997 in Healdsburg, California, their two sons have already jumped into the family business. Oldest son Cole Davis is the cellar master and assistant winemaker at the winery and youngest son Cooper Davis is pursuing a wine marketing degree at Sonoma State University. Guy Davis’ passion for wine began in Seattle, where he worked at a French restaurant while attending the University of Washington. Tasting French wine at the end of his shift with the owner and chef of the restaurant blossomed into a love of the taste and production of the beverage. Now, Davis Family Vineyards produces a variety of wines, from its estate grown Syrah to its sparkling Rose de Noir made entirely with Pinot Noir.
Sam Kaplan says winemaking has always been in his blood. His family lived on a farm in Oklahoma so he grew up with an appreciation of agriculture. And it didn’t hurt that his father made wine in the garage. Kaplan originally wanted to be a doctor, but realized wine was his calling when he was offered a winemaking internship after college. Since then he’s been involved with and founded a number of brands, from Memento Mori and Arkenstone to his latest venture: Maxem. Kaplan and his wife, Nancy, who is a chef, started Maxem, named after their two kids Max and Emma. “As winemakers, we’re asked to do charity events all the time for a host of causes,” Kaplan says. “Watching [Triangle Wine Experience] evolve, seeing what they’re doing for the kids and what the Frankie Lemmon School has turned into is really touching.”
More than a decade ago, Helen Keplinger moved to Spain to start a winery for a group of investors who purchased a vineyard. Her husband, DJ Warner, visited her often as they traveled throughout famed wine regions of Europe, becoming steeped in the Mediterranean way of life. This culture made its way back to Napa Valley when Keplinger and Warner started their own venture, Keplinger Wines, where they select specific vineyards and grapes to create sought-after wines.