The inner workings of Triangle Wine Experience – how it becomes a stellar fundraiser

Triangle Wine Experience Art.jpg

Do you ever stop to think about what goes on behind the scenes of huge events? We do. We’ve been attending the Triangle Wine Experience gala for the past 7 years, and just like clockwork, it never disappoints. The star-studded event, that is going on its 26th year, raises funds for the Frankie Lemmon School and Development Center here in Raleigh.

We’ve seen just about every aspect of what’s become one of our favorite events to attend each and every year. From the wine dinners that are spread across the Triangle to the wine tastings at local bottle shops. From standing beside California winemakers eating Bojangle biscuits while Frankie Lemmon children perform a song, and offer them homemade gifts. We’ve even been invited to Eliza Kraft Olander’s house to take part in her infamous parties she has each year for all the winemakers.

But with all that said, we’ve never seen what goes on to make this event possible. But that will all change this year – as we have volunteered to help set up the grand gala the morning of the grand gala. We hope to attend again this year, but if we don’t, we can now say we’ve helped out in a new way this time around.

Another part we’ve never really known about is how does this event get all these coveted, award-winning winemakers each year? So, we thought we’d reach out to TWE’s Director of Wine and Operations, Ken Place, and find out a little more about what makes Triangle Wine Experience so special.

Fact: did you know that TWE has a list of 400 wineries that have attended the event in the past, which becomes the basis of the starting invitation list. “We also get recommendations from other winemakers and distributors trying to promote their brands,” says Place.

Then the TWE co-chair committee looks at each winery submission, reviews critic’s scores – and in some cases, visit the wineries to ensure they are of the quality that TWE guests expect. That just shows how committed this organization is at providing its guests with only the best. “We also have to consider that our guests know their wines, and won’t consider buying tickets to a dinner with an unknown winemaker or brand,” says Place.

And most TWE alum, such as ourselves, are accustomed to seeing the likes of winemakers such as Steve Reynolds, Pam Starr, Guy Davis or Sam Lando. But the organization also tries to bring in new wineries and winemakers each year. For 2019, TWE will bring in some newcomers such as Herb Lamb Vineyards, Sangiocomo Family Vineyards, Jeff Cohn Cellars, State of Mind Wines and Perliss Family Vineyards – to name a few.

We at Triangle Around Town love so many great wines from all around the World – California, France, South Africa, Italy. You name it, we drink it. But being bloggers here in North Carolina, we also enjoy drinking local as frequently as possible. And the one thing we’ve noticed at TWE events, as well as a handful North Carolina winemakers, is that you won’t find any local wine being poured at any of the wine dinners or the gala. That’s one thing we wanted Place to address, in hopes we’ll get the answer we’re looking for.

“We keep an eye on the NC wine industry for future inclusion in our events, and no doubt in the future we will see them at TWE,” he says. “We will probably follow the same pattern that we do for wineries we are trying to introduce to our event.”

Once a winemaker arrives in town, the foundation really takes care of their guests. One of the organization’s sponsors, Summit Hospitality, helps assist in finding lodging for guests, and the winemakers are given either a rental car or Uber points to get from one place to the next. They are also provided shuttles from their rooms to the VIP party at Eliza’s as well as the gala.

Are you into numbers? So are we. And here are some interesting numbers to know about the event. During the winery dinners, winemakers bring between 6 to 12 bottles of each varietal per course. During the annual trade tasting, they’ll bring an extra 3 to 6 bottles. For the grand gala (which could be up to 600 guests), the winemakers bring 6 bottles for the tasting and 3 bottles for live auctions. That’s a lot of amazing wine coming to Raleigh – don’t you think?

The Triangle Wine Experience is Eliza Kraft Olander. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. All that she has done for the organizations involved and the children goes above and beyond expectations – she’s even received the prestigious Order of the Long Leaf Pine. Again, we were lucky enough to be there for that event, where she was given the award by North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper.

We don’t know if Olander plans on hanging up her philanthropic gloves anytime soon, but if she does, the organizations won’t have to look far for her replacement. Place has already been hired to replace Olander, or as he states, “to take as much of the burden as possible away from Eliza.”

For now, we are looking forward to once again, raising up a glass, or a dozen, and celebrating what is known as Triangle Wine Experience.

By Dathan Kazsuk and Jennifer Primrose |