UNLVino. The name has been marked as one of the most anticipated food and beverage event that doubles as a fundraiser for the William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration UNLV Hotel College for the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Who would have thought the event would have grown so much since its initial inception in 1974, started by former Hotel College Dean Jerry Vallen and Larry Ruvo, now Senior Managing Director of Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits. Going on its 43rd year, UNLVino continues to be the longest running food and wine festival in Las Vegas. This year, I also had the opportunity to speak with Michael Severino, Senior Director of Special Events and Marketing for Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits, who also has a longstanding history of involvement with UNLVino and a relationship with both Larry Ruvo and Jerry Vallen. He gave me some insight on the evolution of the event and some exciting things to come for this year’s 43rd UNLVino series.

The Beginnings

The concept of a wine tasting class as a whole, not even the event concept, was so new back in the 1960s. The first Hotel College wine education classes began off-site, and the relationships built over the course of its development led to the creation of UNLVino. The collaboration between Vallen and Ruvo led to the first event in 1974, which was held at the original Southern Wine and Spirits warehouse, with less than 50 guests.

From there, the event began to grow and expand, with location and event expansions. After outgrowing the warehouse location, UNLVino was relocated to the Thomas & Mack Center, to Bally’s, and to Paris Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, where the Grand Tasting is still held today.

The Event and Its Evolution

Since the inaugural UNLVino one-day wine tasting event at the Southern Wine and Spirits warehouse, the event has evolved into a multi-day event with various themes. In the past couple years, UNLVino has settled on three primary events, which will all once again take place this year.

Day 1- Bubble-Licious, The Venetian Las Vegas Thursday, March 30, which is the sparkling wine themed event.

Day 2 - Saké Fever, Red Rock Casino Resort and Spa Friday, March 31, which is the saké themed event.

Day 3 - The Grand Tasting, Paris Las Vegas Saturday, April 1, which is the general wine-themed event.

Did you know that there were other themed events during previous UNLVino years?

Auss-Some and Then Some - In 2003 and 2004, this event showcased Australian wines. It was later replaced by Saké Fever, which continues this year.

Bar-b-q - In 2013, BAR-b-q debuted at the Keep Memory Alive Center located at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, featuring celebrity chefs and master mixologists. It returned in 2014 and was held at Caesars Palace, at the Garden of the Gods pool.

40th Anniversary Grand Tasting Event - For the 2014 UNLVino, the Grand Tasting was held at the beautiful Keep Memory Alive Center designed by Frank Gehry.

1999 UNLVino Event Planning Class begins at the UNLV Hotel College

Almost 20 years ago, a dedicated UNLVino class now called TCA390, Exhibit Marketing and Management was created within the UNLV Hotel College program to allow students the ability to obtain first-hand experience in event planning and the management of the large-scale food and beverage event. Students go through an extensive interview/vetting process before being allowed into the class. The students then become managers throughout the semester, with dedicated areas of leadership responsibility for UNLVino, such as fundraising, marketing, vendor relations and culinary planning/execution. The course is led by one front-of-the-house instructor Todd Uglow and one heart-of-the-house instructor Mark Sandoval, each with extensive experience in event planning and culinary experience, respectively. However, the majority of the responsibilities are handed over to the student managers to own. This course is definitely one of the great benefits to living in Las Vegas and attending the UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration, which offers undergraduate and graduate Master and Ph.D. degrees.

What’s New This Year?

With the transition of Southern Wine and Spirits to Southern Glazer’s Wine and Spirits in early 2016 brings new and improved benefits to UNLVino! Each year, the UNLVino events continue to impress, and this year is no different. With this year’s increased product portfolio, there will be more brands represented and some new ones too. There will also be a larger food selection, with more tastings and participation from additional restaurant venues.

According to Severino, despite the Grand Tasting being one of the most popular events of the UNLVino series, over the past few years, Saké Fever has really grown to become its own reputable event. Not only has there been an increase in beverage vendors, but there has been a surge in emphasis on the food. Just last year alone, there were over 30 restaurants who participated, from hotel restaurant outlets, to restaurants within the local community. The connection to the local community has also been a growing goal of UNLVino, and beyond food and beverage, local artists and vendors have also participating in the events in recent years.

March 29, 2017 - Special Event!! One of the most exciting new offerings this year by Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is a special Riedel training with George Riedel himself! If you aren’t aware, Riedel is a specialized wine glass company who caters to the beverage, restaurant and general consumer industry. They just celebrated their 260 year anniversary in 2016, and have lasted throughout the years due to their technological advances and innovations in wine glass designs. The event will include a tasting of wines selected by Master Sommelier, Joseph Phillips, and be held on Wednesday, March 29 at Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits. Tickets are $175 each with limited seating. Call 702-876-4500 to purchase.

Ultimately, What’s It all About? The Students, of Course!

The balance of the academic contribution from the Hotel College and industry contribution of Southern Glazer’s over the years has really grown UNLVino to become a recognized event, a brand in fact. For many, such as Severino, it’s become a tradition, and one that people in Las Vegas and visitors to the state come to look forward to.

The event has truly evolved over the years; however, one thing has not changed. UNLVino continues to ultimately be focused on the students. The event is planned, managed and executed by students. The preparation of food, pouring of beverage, marketing, advertising, PR, etc…are all done by the students.

What better way to gain practical, industry experience working with the hospitality industry than with an event that is planned, coordinated and worked at by the students, and one that ultimately gives back to the students? In addition to the UNLVino class composed of student managers, hundreds of UNLV Hotel College students are recruited as volunteers for the event as well. “Take a Sip for Scholarships” is the motto of UNLVino, and proceeds from the UNLVino event are donated back to the UNLV Hotel College to pay for student scholarships.

Let’s continue to support the continued tradition of UNLVino by attending this annual food and beverage spectacular, and take that sip for scholarship for the students of the UNLV William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration. Hope to see you there!

To learn more about this year’s UNLVino Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence Honorees, check out my WineTalk column in this month’s issue.

UNLVino Fun Fact!

Did you know that the inaugural Bubble-Licious event in 2004 was held at the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino, Las Vegas? The 30th anniversary event featured special guests Mayor Oscar Goodman and Noriyuki “Pat” Morita from The Karate Kid. They both sabered a bottle of champagne at this event.

For more information, go to unlvino.com.

Until next time, Cheers~!