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Raise A Glass – Fayetteville Wine Society is Toast of The Town

In a back room at Chris’s Steakhouse, the wine flowed. And food – pasta, warm spinach dip and bread, cubes of cheese and chocolate.

Forget weekends, fourth Monday nights might be Fayetteville’s best-kept secret.

When Kristine Miller arrived in town nearly three years ago, she brought with her a passion for wine and the desire to share it. The result was the formation of the Fayetteville Wine Society.

It started in January 2007 with a meeting attended by more than 100 people. Since then, about 60 loyal members have participated in monthly gatherings to taste and learn about wines.

Miller, who is president of the group, teaches culinary arts and hospitality at Fayetteville Technical Community College while pursuing her master’s in business administration at East Carolina University. She received her sommelier (wine expert) certificate at Disney World in 2004.

“That’s when I first fell in love with wine,” she says. “I feel it is an art … properly tasting, analyzing and appreciating wine is an art in itself.

“Each bottle of wine is like its own little mystery. There’s so much you can learn about the wine maker and the country where it came from. Every time you’ve got a glass in front of you, you learn more about the person behind it.”

While putting together a wine list for the Hilltop House restaurant, Miller saw the need for a strong community of wine lovers. Anxious to drum up excitement and support, she found both when talking with Nick Parrous, Teresa Swint and Matthew Fink. Parrous created the wine cellar at Luigi’s restaurant; Swint owns Grapes & Hops, a specialty wine, beer and cigar shop; and Fink is a wine consultant with The Country Vintner.

“It’s been quite exciting,” Parrous said. “Kristine got this thing rolling. I was doing these collector wine tastings on my own at the restaurant. But once we pooled our collective thoughts, we said, ‘How can we make this work on a bigger scale?’”

Bigger scale indeed. The club is now aligned with the American Wine Society. Enthusiasm has grown in the ranks – members are holding their own informal tastings for friends at home. You can find regular postings about the Fayetteville Wine Society on Web sites for wine enthusiasts from all parts of the country. The group even chartered a bus for a special trip to a wine trade show in Raleigh last month.

“We’re talking tables full of wine everywhere,” Miller says. “It’s a special treat and usually not something the public can get into.”

Miller says the society has grown into a close-knit group. “The trend in the wine community, universally, is going away from the snobby, unapproachable perception. We are trying to beat the bad rap; wine tasting groups have a bad reputation. The people in our group are very warm and welcoming.”

A typical meeting of the Fayetteville Wine Society will include the introduction of six to eight wines. Miller, Parrous, Swint and Fink provide information about the wines, which are tasted by everyone. But there’s always a detailed explanation of the country the group is studying that month whether it’s the wines of France or South Africa.

“There is a great opportunity to learn,” Miller says. “After we pour wine and talk about it, we take questions. Our group is open to all ages and all levels of wine knowledge. We don’t want people to be intimidated.”

And there’s food, of course. The group rotates between Fayetteville restaurants. Members may sample tapas one month, Italian dishes the next. Each mouthwatering course, whether it’s spicy risotto or wine-soaked strawberries, has a corresponding wine.

Members then have the option of buying the wines they try for a discounted rate.

Miller says it’s helped create cooperation and synergy between Fayetteville’s wine shops, distributors and restaurants. After all, nothing goes together better than good food and drink, she says. “It’s a way to bring people together over a good bottle of wine.”

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