Inaugural Orlando Wine Festival and Auction will take wine tasting to a whole new level

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The inaugural Orlando Wine Festival and Auction kicks off Friday, March 15, with a weekend of dinners, tastings and events organized by the Orlando Magic and benefitting the Orlando Magic Youth Foundation (OMYF). It’s already clear that this is not going to be your typical wine and food tasting.

It is certainly set apart from other wine events because of the cost, but we’ll come back to that in a moment.

But there is also the scope. The weekend begins with a series of dinners hosted in private homes — well, ok, private mansions in many cases — featuring celebrity chefs, both local and visiting, and a featured winery at each location. Unfortunately, it’s not a dine-around or a progressive dinner — attendees will have to choose just one location. But there’s a varied array from which to choose.

For example, Robert and Tricia Earl will host a Japan themed dinner that will be prepared by Iron Chef Masaharu Morimoto in their Isleworth estate featuring the wines of Accendo Cellars.

Or you could choose the west Orlando home of Frank and Beckie Meyer, where the Rusty Spoon’s Kathleen Blake will pair her cuisine with wines from Hourglass Winery.

Walt Disney World president George Kalogridis will have chef Art Smith from Homecomin’ and the wines of Rudd Oakville Estate.

And Magic CEO Alex Martins and his wife, Juliet, will co-host with Magic chairman Dan DeVos and his wife, Pamella, at a dinner cooked by Scott Hunnel with wines from Casa Piena, with winery executive Carmen Policy, also of the NFL, and Peter Michael Winery.

The Martins/DeVos dinner will be held at a home in Lake Nona. Martins said Monday that they will have about 30 guests attend, “Too many people for my house,” he said.

And the tone of the dinners will vary, too, with suggested attire running from “coastal casual” for a dinner at Eric Van de Zilver’s place to formal (tuxes and gowns) for the dinner at the Meyer’s.

“I think they’ll all be special,” Martins said of the dinners. “There’s everything from a golf theme to a full Indian dinner theme.” The former is a dinner at the home of Derek and Sherene Lewis with James and Julie Petrakis as the chefs, with wines from Cliff Lede Vineyards; and the latter is hosted by Amish and Beena Parikh with the cuisine of Akshay Bhardwaj of the Michelin-starred Junoon in New York paired with Revana Winery.

On Saturday, everyone comes together for the Outdoor Wine Festival from 2 to 5 p.m. on the grounds of the Ritz-Carlton Grande Lakes Orlando (festive casual here). From 5 to 7:30 p.m. is a live auction with some pretty grand prizes, including trips to the wine country (both domestic and European); luxury stays in Paris and London; an “Ultimate Super Bowl LIV Experience”; and a round of golf with Charles Barkley at Baha Mar Casino in Nassau.

And the evening concludes with a Celebratory Dinner and Entertainment in the Ritz’s Tuscany Ballroom from 7:30 to 10 p.m.

The weekend concludes with a reception at Amway Center from 4:30 to 5:45 p.m. ahead of the 6 o’clock tipoff of the game between the Magic and the Atlanta Hawks.

To attend the Orlando Wine Festival and Auction, you must purchase a package. The standard package, the Premier Cru, is $6,500 and includes two tickets to a dinner, the Saturday activities and the basketball game on Sunday. It also includes local car service throughout the festival weekend and two “VIP gifts,” which I hope are Macbook Pros. (Martins said they gifts will be wine related but would not say anything other than, "They will be very nice gifts.")

You can go bigger with the Grand Cru package priced at $18,500. That gets you four tickets to everything, plus priority selection of a Friday dinner, two two-night hotel rooms, and access to the Fields Lounge at the Magic game.

You can also go cheaper, relatively speaking, with the Reserve package for $2,500, but that includes two tickets only to the Saturday events — no dinner, no VIP gifts, no Magic game. And you’ll have to call your own Uber.

“It’s a price point this community is not used to yet,” Martins said of the cost. “But when people have the experience, they’ll see the value in it.” Martins said the organizers expect to have between 450 and 500 attendees for the Saturday tastings, which is almost near capacity because the wineries, many of which are small producers, said they couldn’t pour for many more than that. As many as 250 people purchased packages that include a Friday private dinner.

Of course, all the funds will got to OMYF, which supports nonprofit agencies serving at-risk youth in the areas of education, homelessness and health.

“At the end of the day, this is about raising money for the foundation,” said Martins. “These kinds of festivals have raised millions of dollars around the country.” The success of the festival, he said, will be measured by how much money is raised.

See the Orlando Wine Festival and Auction website for more information about packages and a complete list of dinners, chefs and wineries.