By Josh Caswell, Alisia Rivera and Paul Brindamour

Special to the Live Wire

The 22nd Annual Evening of Fine Wines, held April 25, was a rousing success, raising more than $250,000 for student scholarships. Manchester Community College’s major fundraising event combines elegant food with a chance to sample wines from regional wineries and purchase trips, show tickets, goody-filled baskets, art and other items. The event, held on campus, also showcases the versatility of the Culinary Arts Department, which provides all the food, and the commitment of the college staff and faculty, who volunteer their time to put on the event each spring.

For many attendees, the wine tasting is the major draw. Seventeen liquor vendors were set up throughout the event. Among the local wine vendors was Cassidy Hill Vineyard, of Coventry. Its Coventry White Wine was an award winner at The Big E in 2013, said Scott Francis, a Cassidy Hill employee.

Photo by Deana Rec

Photo by Deana Rec

Also in attendance for Cassidy Hill was Maureen MacDonald, an official winemaker. MacDonald is the state’s youngest official winemaker, and one of only two women.

Home winemaker Gene Spaziani, of Mystic, was also present to offer his wines. Spaziani has been making wine at home for more than 60 years, he said. He is a co-author of The Home Winemaker’s Companion, as well as a past president of the American Wine Society. He also teaches at MCC.

“It’s been so long I can’t remember,” said Spaziani, in reference to how long he has been interested in wine.

Other local wine vendors at the event included Lost Acres Vineyard, of North Granby, and Sharpe Hill Vineyard, of Pomfret.

Many patrons said they were surprised by the variety of local selections.

“I am very happy with how delicious the local wine selections are,” said Carol Delaney, of South Windsor, who has sent five children to MCC and made multiple donations to the MCC Foundation, which sponsors the event. “I expect to be buying local more often. I am most definitely coming back next year.”

But fine wines weren’t the only thing that guests were able sample. A wide variety of delicious hors d’oeuvres, prepared by the culinary students, were offered buffet-style and passed around among the crowd on silver platters.IMG_0931

From a Leg of Lamb on a Pita Chip from the Middle East, to Kielbasa in an Apricot Glaze from Poland, the evening’s international menu allowed guests to taste dishes from around the world. Student Chef Manager Evan Quattropani said he helped prepare about 500 Beef Empanadas, so there was plenty to go around.

One culinary student said that all the hard work paid off.

“It’s been a lot of long hours,” Peter Mason said. “My favorite thing about all this is seeing it all come together.”

It truly had been a lot of long hours for the culinary students. They began planning for this event back in August and have spent a lot of time preparing the menu.

One guest gushed that there was something for every palate.

“Great variety!” said John Jezowski, a Webster Bank employee from Wethersfield. “My date is a vegetarian and she was very happy.”

It didn’t end with just the hors d’oeuvres however. The guests had to save room for dessert, which featured dessert stations, included beautifully crafted tarts, a pyramid of cupcakes with five different flavors to choose from, and a table covered in snickerdoodles. If one couldn’t make it through the crowd to these stations, the tray service brought around plenty of chocolate treats, including truffles and huge chocolate-covered strawberries.

Photo by Sarah Moss

Photo by Sarah Moss

Once food and drink had been imbibed, the evening continued to the main event, the auctions. Both a Live Auction and a Silent Auction are offered, with the more expensive items being sold at the Live Auction.

About an hour and a half into the evening, patrons gathered in the Lowe lobby for the Live Auction. The atmosphere was festive as local radio personality Fisch, of 104.1, began to emcee. Also on stage to keep the auction exciting were Laurie Pérez, a news anchor on FOX CT, and pageant contestant Ashley Bote.

After remarks from MCC President Gena Glickman, a chorus of “Happy Birthday” was sung to mark the college’s 50th anniversary. Then the Live Auction got underway.

In addition to the dozens of fine wines auctioned off, there were other items up for bid such as tickets to a Boston Bruins game and a basketball signed by the 2014 National Champion Women Huskies of the University of Connecticut, along with four bottles of wine from UCONN Women’s Coach Geno Auriemma’s collection. Those priceless items went for $700.

Also auctioned off were a Zulu Nyala African Safari for $2,800 and a sport fishing trip and private dinner for four on Long Island Sound for $900. VIP tickets for a Tim McGraw concert, including a private booth, sold for $700.

In between bidding sessions several students took to the stage to remind patrons why they were there: to raise money to fund student scholarships. Student Josh Albino described how the money raised at fundraisers such as the Evening of Fine Wines have personally helped him. Over the course of the evening $10,000 worth of scholarships were donated.

The Silent Auction, laid out in the Cougar Café, offered more wine for sale, as well as MLB and NHL photos, jerseys and other memorabilia, Mystic Seaport admission tickets, a vacation to Florida, and several AAA memberships.

After the Live Auction ended, the evening closed with a dance party, with music provided by MCC’s own Ice Radio.

By then more than $270,000 had been raised. So one thing is certain: individuals at the Evening of Fine Wines did in fact “bid high and bid often.”

Live Wire reporters Shannon Darby, Brandon Fern and Aaron Scott contributed to this report.