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Annual wine tasting to go all in for the arts

On Saturday, Feb. 2, Oxford's oenophiles and art lovers will unite once more to sip wine and support the Performing Arts Series.

The 29th Annual Wine Tasting Gala and Auction will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. in Millett Hall. The year's fundraiser is sponsored by M.I.A. Restaurant & Studio and benefits the Performing Arts Series' community outreach and education programs.

Performing Arts Series Director Patti Hannan Liberatore estimates around 250 attendees for this year's gala and expects to raise over $20,000 between the wine tasting and silent auction.

This money will allow the Performing Arts Series to support education initiatives in Talawanda schools and bring national and international touring artists to Oxford.

Liberatore said that this year's theme, "Uncorked: all in for the arts," nods to the gala's wine tasting and the gambling component that proved popular last year.

"This really is all about the arts being a winner," she said, "and if you come, you can bet on a good time."

Each of the gala's nearly 200 wines were selected by Jack Keegan, who serves as the Performing Arts Series advisory board president and wine chair. For several weeks, Keegan has been in close contact with collectors, distributors and wine retailers in order to prepare for the gala.

"They start sending me lists of the wines they plan on pouring," Keegan said. "Some of them have Miami connections and some do not, but simply love supporting the arts."

Keegan, who instructs Miami's viticulture and enology class, used his network to assemble the gala's list of premium pours -- rare wines from around the world that usually fetch for hundreds of dollars.

"These are wines, for the most part, that are not currently on the market, coming out of someone's cellar," Keegan said. "Sometimes I am quite bowled over with what people will donate."

One premium pour ticket costs $5, while $25 will purchase six tickets and $60 will net 16. These tickets grant attendees access to the rare wines offered and are separate from the price of entry.

Between drinks, gala goers will also be able to enjoy hors d'oeuvres and desserts, as well as play blackjack and other games of chance.

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They can also bid on items in the silent action, which features local artwork, a brunch at Patterson's Cafe, tickets to a Cincinnati Reds game and a wine tasting in Sonoma, California. There will also be concert tickets for artists such as Eric Church, Carrie Underwood, Kelly Clarkson and Elton John.

One of the most popular items for auction each year is a dinner with Keegan himself.

"It is a wine-food pairing dinner for six and it is to die for," Liberatore said. "I've been the lucky winner on that one a couple of times and I can say with full honesty that Jack and his kitchen wizards put together a lovely meal."

Like last year, bidding will occur online, allowing more people to participate without physically attending the gala. Although, for those who are at the gala, a bidder's lounge will offer a place for people to sit and rest while they vie for their prize.

"We find artists who are exceptional in areas that we are trying to support on campus," Liberatore said.

For example, Liberatore said the Performing Arts Series Chamber supplements Miami's music department through the chamber music series. Similarly, last semester's performance by the Chinese Warriors of Peking provided entertainment for students and community members of Chinese origin, while also educating non-Chinese audience members on aspects of Chinese history.

The gala is open to students and community members, provided they are 21 or over. Admission is $79 per person and can either be reserved through the Performing Arts Series' website, or purchased at the door. Dress is black-tie optional.