In the spirit
Sparrow Wine pops the cork for a cause
by E. Assata Wright
Reporter staff writer
Nov 07, 2010 | 2054 views | 0 0 comments | 10 10 recommendations | email to a friend | print
TASTERS’ CHOICE – Among the lead organizers of the upcoming 15th Annual Grand Tasting are (from left to right): Sparrow Wine & Liquor Co. President Armando Luis; Hoboken University Medical Center Event Co-chair Teresa Delaney; Mike Garcia, vice president of Sparrow; and Omar Giner, head chef and owner of La Isla Restaurant.
TASTERS’ CHOICE – Among the lead organizers of the upcoming 15th Annual Grand Tasting are (from left to right): Sparrow Wine & Liquor Co. President Armando Luis; Hoboken University Medical Center Event Co-chair Teresa Delaney; Mike Garcia, vice president of Sparrow; and Omar Giner, head chef and owner of La Isla Restaurant.
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On Nov. 18, 800 well-heeled Hobokenites will come together at the Westin Hotel in downtown Jersey City to break bread and sniff the bouquet of fine wines, paying a $75 admission fee for the privilege.

But despite the tony trappings of the annual event, known as the Grand Tasting, now in its fifteenth year, the proceeds from the event will benefit FAITH Services.

Run out of Hoboken University Medical Center, FAITH Services is the only agency in Hudson County solely dedicated to the needs of people living with HIV and AIDS. FAITH offers medical services, medication management, counseling services, daily meals, and financial assistance to its targeted population and also makes referrals. According to the agency, its program serves more than 1,000 people a year.

For a decade and a half Grand Tasting has been hosted and co-sponsored by Sparrow Wine and Liquor Co., the family-owned Hoboken wine store chain that has two locations in the city.

“When we first met them, we were surprised to learn that there were about 150 children in the Hoboken school system who were HIV+,” said Armando Luis, president of Sparrow Wine.
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“We’ve outgrown everything in town,” said Luis, explaining why the Grand Tasting now takes place in the Jersey City Westin.
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“At the time we were approached by FAITH Services. They had asked for us to make a contribution for an event that they were doing. As it happened we were also looking for a charitable organization in town so that we could legally hold a wine tasting event,” Armando continued, recalling how the company and FAITH Services combined to create the first Grand Tasting. “In the state of New Jersey, the Alcoholic Beverage Commission has a lot of restrictions on how you can legally do a wine tasking. We had approached then-Mayor Anthony Russo for a recommendation for a worthwhile organization, and he had recommended FAITH Services. Then they ended up contacting us independently. So we decided to cooperate in raising money for this cause.”

In the years that Sparrow Wine has co-sponsored the event with FAITH Services and Hoboken University Medical Center, Luis estimates that more than $50,000 has been raised for the agency.

Started small, then grew

Like many established fundraisers, the Grand Tasting started small and grew over time.

“We’ve outgrown everything in town,” said Luis, explaining why the Grand Tasting now takes place in the Jersey City Westin.

The Grand Tasting has grown to be more than a simple wine tasting.

These days the event includes participation from a number of restaurants, vineyards, distilleries, vendors, and other businesses.

“Everything is donated – the food, the manpower. It has become quite an event,” said Luis.

He and his business partner Mike Garcia, vice president of Sparrow, are the main organizers of the Grand Tasting. It is through them the event is able to gather donations from wine, beer, and spirits vendors, in addition to contributions from restaurants. The hospital, however, also secures other donations from its partners in the corporate community.

This year more than 21 restaurants will feature sample dishes from their menus and guests will enjoy a selection of 100 to 200 different beers and other spirits that will be available.

Naturally, it’s the distilled grapes that are at the center of any wine tasting, and it’s no different for the Grand Tasting.

“There are over 500 wines from all over the world that we’ll have, all of which are donated by our vendors,” said Luis, who added that Sparrow’s vendors also help staff the event.

“This event has become so popular, not only with the customers, but with our vendors and their suppliers that we now have to reject contributions,” said Luis. “The event attracts as good a customer profile as there is.”

Take a cab

Some attendees even come from out of town and book rooms at the Westin and other area hotels.

Luis stressed that organizers of the event also arrange cab service to drive local participants home when the event ends.

“We emphasize that we don’t want people on the road driving after this event,” he said. “So we ask that people plan ahead to take a cab home. Or, the Westin is right next to the [Hudson-Bergen] Light Rail. They can take that home, too. That’s an option.”

The Westin is also about two blocks from the Pavonia-Newport PATH station.

Grand Tasting will take place on Thurs., Nov. 18 from 6:30 to 10 p.m. at the Jersey City Westin. Tickets can be purchased on line at www.HobokenUMC.com or in person at both Sparrow Wine & Liquor Co. locations, Sparrow Wine, 126 Washington St. and 1224 Shipyard Lane. Checks only will be accepted, made payable to Hoboken University Medical Center.

E-mail E. Assata Wright at awright@hudsonreporter.com.

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