Start with vandalism and a tight budget, stir in some local ingenuity and what do you get? Juneau Rotary's annual wine tasting and auction fundraiser, which will be held from 6 to 8:30 p.m. Feb. 16 at Mendenhall Auto Center. Now in its sixth year, the local event will be featured on the Exploring Alaska television show next month as part of a feature on things to do in Juneau during the winter.
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Envisioned in 2001, the annual wine tasting resulted from the vandalism of the wildlife viewing station overlooking Mendenhall Wetlands State Game Refuge on Gastineau Channel. Since the downtown Rotary Club's budget lacked funds to repair the viewing station and to fund the club's annual $6,000 scholarship to University of Alaska Southeast, Rotarian Lynne Johnson proposed a wine tasting and auction to raise money. Juneau Rotary Club member Steve Allwine and his wife, Karla, at Mendenhall Auto Center host the annual event.
"We had three goals," Johnson said. The newly formed wine committee hoped to raise $6,000 to honor the annual scholarship commitment, to engage club members, and to make fund-raising fun. Since 2001, the Juneau Rotary Club has donated more than $40,000 in scholarships to students attending UAS.
"With the ever-increasing cost of higher education, the private support given for scholarships from community organizations like the Juneau Rotary Club can truly have an impact in the lives of our students," said UAS Chancellor John Pugh.
To engage club members, the wine committee asked traveling Rotarians to purchase wines and present them to the club with tales about their acquisition or voyage. John Sandor, the club's number one storyteller, often prepares an entire package: Mount Vernon wine with chocolate-covered cherries, Elvis Presley wines with a "Blue Suede Shoes" CD. Bottles have varied from a 1985 Silver Oak Cabernet to a 2003 Vintage Road Kill Red from Colorado. This year's auction will feature a rare limited-edition collector's vertical of Far Niente Cabernet Sauvignon.
A unique element of the event is the creation of the club's own label, featuring local Juneau themes. In 2004, the wine committee chose Glacier Grigio, a label picturing the Mendenhall Glacier, followed by Crabpot Cabernet in 2005. Last year, Midnight Merlot used a Fairbanks Geophysical Institute photo of the aurora borealis. This year's label is a Mark Kelley photo used and altered with permission by Andy Mills. It features a Glacier Bay grizzly with grapes and is appropriately named Grizzly Beardeaux.
The idea seems to be working. The event, limited to 220 guests, is sold out each year. For a ticket price of $35, participants sample wines, partake in abundant hors d'oeuvres, and receive a souvenir custom-made wine glass embedded with a specially designed label. "The glass makes this winetasting interesting," Johnson said.
The wine tasting is made possible by the corporate sponsorship of Juneau's four local wine distributors who all participate in the event, including Alaska Distributors, K&L Distributors, Odom Company, and Specialty Imports. Royal Caribbean Cruise Line also donates a Caribbean cruise for a raffle prize in support of the Club's UAS scholarship program. The winning ticket is drawn at the close of the evening's festivities.
For more information or to see if tickets are still available, contact Lynne Johnson at UAS 796-6416.
Mary Lou Gerbi is the director of public relations for the Juneau Rotary Club.