From rolling the dice on a startup, funding raising event in 1974, UNLVINO has exploded in popularity, becoming the preeminent wine, spirit and beer tasting festival in the West. The four-day global beverage affair presents a myriad of events fashioned for the wine, spirit and beer connoisseur, aficionado and novice. The annual UNLVINO affair solicits charitable donations for UNLV’s William F. Harrah College of Hotel Administration scholarship fund.
UNLVINO can trace its roots back to UNLV hospitality program director Jerry Valle. He instituted a wine tasting curriculum at UNLV, in 1969, with a Hilton Hotel-Casino sommelier. In need of wine to sample in the classroom, Vallen got in touch with local alcohol beverage distributors seeking wine gratis. Vallen remarked, “I had to store the wine at my house because we couldn’t have it on campus.” When the course concluded, Vallen, prohibited by law, still offered to return the wine to the distributors. He believes that his gratitude for the donations impressed many and set in motion the foundation for the annual affair.
In 1974, after five years of classroom wine tasting, Southern Wine & Spirits President, Larry Ruvo came up with the idea to have a local wine festival, with funds raised benefiting UNLV’s College of Hotel Administration scholarship fund. The inaugural UNLVINO took place at Southern Wine & Spirits’ warehouse. Less than 50 individuals attended the first affair, but as the next ten years passed, the affair grew in popularity. It became popular, which necessitated UNLVINO to move to the spacious and accommodating Thomas & Mack Center.
As word spread about the first class UNLVINO affair, it was forced to move again, to Bally’s Grand Ballroom, to handle to the growing crowds. Bally’s Grand Ballroom offered attendees more ambiance and an intimate and cozy setting, with abundant parking. UNLVINO now had over 100 tables, a far cry from just 25 tables 14 years earlier.
With interest in wines increasing in the late 80’s, attendees were tasting wines beyond the borders of California and France hailing from around the world and even Washington State.
The UNLVINO affair, growing by leaps and bounds, introduced “Bubble-Licious” and “Auss-some & Then Some”, which enlightened event-goers to the wines from Australia and New Zealand. The 2004 event would see celebrity chefs and gourmet food introduced at the wine tasting affair.
2014 would have UNLVINO on the move again, to the event center at the Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health, to handle the crowds. Thirty years after its inception, the Dom Pérignon Award of Excellence was awarded to UNLVINO’s co-founders Jerry Vallen and Larry Ruvo.