What started as a wine and cheese party 25 years ago to raise funds for The Frankie Lemmon School and Developmental Center is now one of the largest wine events on the east coast. This year Triangle Wine Experience expanded its festivities from three days to four with participation by 40 of the Triangle’s premier restaurants, 18 award-winning chefs at its gala and more than 70 wineries from all over the world including some of the most prestigious in the industry.
This year the festivities included a bonus tasting event of eight of the most sought-after chateaus from the Bordeaux region of France. All of this thanks to Durham’s Queen of Wines, one of the few female owned wine distributors in the world.
The chilly air of late January didn’t dampen the enthusiasm of Triangle Wine Experience patrons at the Carolina Country Club in Raleigh enjoying Grand cru classé — a title bestowed upon only 61 wineries in the world in 1855. This classification of excellence remains today.
“We are thrilled to host these prestigious wineries,” said Laure Levesque, owner of Queen of Wines, “and to partner for such an important cause as the Frankie Lemmon School. Triangle Wine Experience is the highlight of any food and wine lovers year.”
The week before the bonus tasting, Triangle Wine Experience founder, Eliza Kraft Olander, was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine for exemplary service to the state of North Carolina and her community above and beyond the call of duty by Governor Roy Cooper at a reception honoring her and a dedicated group of Triangle Wine Experience volunteers in late January.
Nothing symbolizes the growth of the Triangle like the Triangle Wine Experience,” says Mary Carey, director of marketing and communication for the Frankie Lemmon Foundation. “Twenty five years ago, a small group of individuals partnered with their friends in the wine industry to create an event to support the children of the Frankie Lemmon School. Now we have four days of events with prestigious wineries from all over the world and amazing chefs. We wouldn’t be able to do that if we were the same Triangle we were 25 years ago.”
Carey is impressed that a core group of a dozen or so volunteers have been with the organization for 25 years, including Olander and Lenora Evans, chief friendship officer of Frankie Lemmon Foundation and 25 year veteran of Triangle Wine Experience.
“In a day when so many people move and leave, we have people who have been involved for 25 years,” Carey said. “It’s the love of the kids and seeing how they grow and blossom at Frankie Lemmon. Miracles happen every day at Frankie Lemmon.”
“There aren’t many people who you can say have changed the lives of thousands of children” said Evans, “but Eliza has. Her efforts have given countless children the gift of being able to walk and communicate with their families. It has been a humbling experience to work with someone with such a big heart. We are all indebted to her tremendous generosity of spirit.”
“There is only one Eliza,” said Ken Place, Director of Operations for Triangle Wine Experience, “it was her vision, her indomitable spirit and hard work that has brought Triangle Wine Experience from a small wine and cheese party to one of the largest and most prestigious wine events on the East Coast. She is irreplaceable.”
Each year the event has grown to where it now raises more than $1.6 million annually for Frankie Lemmon School, which moved into its own new facility on Carl Sandburg Court in Raleigh two years ago. The school has approximately 70 students and has served 1,534 families since its founding in the 1960s.
About a third of the operating budget for the Frankie Lemmon School comes from Wake County/State of North Carolina, according to W. Scott Troutman, executive director of the Frankie Lemmon School and Developmental Center. Private support provides the rest, with the majority of that generated from all of the Triangle Wine Experience events.
“In the past two years, the Frankie Lemmon School has been able to move into its own building and grow from serving 25 children to currently serving 70 children,” Troutman said. “We will expand to serve approximately 90 children for the 2018-2019 school year. Proceeds from the Triangle Wine Experience, along with other private support, have funded this growth and allowed us to impact more children and their families.”
Frankie Lemmon Board Chair Barry Gardner says, “This support has made it possible for the school to provide an education for children with special needs ages 3 thru 5 to advance their communication skills through various therapies and technology. This is provided to parents tuition free. It is a wonderful feeling when you go to the School and see the happy faces on the children and the fine work that the Frankie Lemmon teachers provide to these special children.”
Triangle Wine Experience had 40 area restaurants participating on Thursday evening, including Angus Barn, Heron’s and Poole’s Diner. So popular are these Winery Dinners that more than half the tickets sold out the first day of ticket sales.
Triangle Wine Experience’s annual Grand Auction & Gala took place Saturday at the former Gander Mountain in Park West Village in Morrisville. Fashionable black tie and ball gowns swirled as almost 700 patrons sampled vintages by 70 prestigious wineries, including Continuum, Round Pond and William Cole and the gourmet foods of award-winning chefs, including Vivian Howard, Ashley Christensen and Scott Crawford.