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Craft beers 'hop' their way into the annual Performing Arts Series wine tasting event

By Chris Curme
On February 14, 2014

Miami University's Performing Arts Series (PAS) will uncork its 24th Annual Wine Tasting Gala and Auction fundraiser on the concourse of Millett Hall next Saturday. This year boasts an expanded craft beer region.

The gala this year will also feature a brand-new "cork raffle," PAS Director Patti Hanna Liberatore said.

"We're doing a world of beer raffle and a world of wine raffle," Liberatore said. "And you can win a suitcase of beer or wine; literally a suitcase. So we'll sell corks for $5, and we'll pull one for [each]."

The suitcases are in keeping with this year's theme, "The world comes to Oxford." Pete Natale, Miami's vice president of Information Technology, sponsored the wine case, and Mike Curme, president of the PAS advisory board, provided the beer, Liberatore said.

"We expanded our beer selection for two reasons," Liberatore said. "One: there is tons of growing interest in craft beer and there are a lot of great craft beers available. And, two, we realized that not everyone wants to drink wine, but they want to participate. Now there's something for everybody."

Biology professor Jack Keegan teaches Miami's wine class and collaborated with all those donating vintages. Keegan, the so-called "wizard of wine," said he was equally excited about the beer.

"We partnered with Rockmill Brewery, near Lancaster," Keegan said, adding that the local water quality is appealing to brewers. "It's owned by Matt Barbee, a Miami alumnus. He makes Belgian-style ales."

Most of the wine travels much further, according to Keegan, who has arranged for many vinos from Italy and France.

"With the premium pours, you get to taste wine out of people's private cellars that you would otherwise never get to," Keegan said. "Even if you don't buy anything from the premium pours, we have some really wonderful wines, which typically retail upward of $100."

While the world may be coming to Oxford, winners of certain big ticket silent auction items will be leaving.

"We have a week in a condo on Sanibel Island," Liberatore said. "You could be the lucky winning bidder on the Ultimate Air Shuttle charter flight to New York City for two. We also have two tickets to Bruno Mars; we have two tickets to the Eagles, which is sold out."

According to Liberatore, the silent auction usually accounts for a large part of the event's revenue, which typically totals around $30,000. The rest comes from admissions tickets and the purchase of certain premium pours. Further, the generosity of local businesses helps the PAS maximize its takeaway.

"Kona [Bistro] provides all the food, and all of that's donated," Liberatore said. "That's the reason for this being successful: the generosity and hard work of those folks, the advisory board and the auction committee."

The event is generally a high point of Oxford's social calendar, Liberatore said, though, on average, about half the 200-300 guests are out-of-towners.

"There are a disproportionate number of wine enthusiasts in the Oxford community," Liberatore said. "For as small as it is, it astonishes me the number of people here who not only enjoy wine but are avid wine collectors. They've been doing it for decades."

Keegan said such an event is a fairly rare occurrence in Oxford.

"It's a chance, in a really low-key setting, to talk to people who know about the wines and taste wines from around the world," Keegan said. "That kind of opportunity rarely presents itself in this area."

The event will kick off at 7 p.m. Feb. 22. Tickets can be bought online or at the Miami University box office. They will also be sold at the door.

Guests must be more than 21 years old.

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