After working at the Suncoast Food and Wine Fest for over a decade, Lakewood Ranch’s Preston Olinger knows what people who attend the event want.
Good food and wine, of course. But they also crave just the right mix of sophistication, fun and entertainment on a cooler-weather afternoon.
This year's event will be held Nov. 11, at the Sarasota Polo Club. Tickets range from $80 to $150 and include tastings of more than 100 wines from around the world and food from 47 restaurants. There's also live music, cooking demonstrations and other festivities.
Since its birth in 2004, the festival has raised $1.5 million and this year, it's on trace to raise more than $100,000 from sponsorships. One-hundred percent of proceeds go to local charities and Rotary programs through an annual grant process.
As chairman of this event for the fourth time since joining the rotary club in 2005, Olinger has developed his own technique for planning. He begins in January, about 10 months in advance.
“Every person who chairs this event does it differently,” said Olinger, who is somewhat sure this will be his last year as the chairman. “I said that last year, too. No one stepped up, so I had to do it again.”
While Olinger is the chairman, there are six committees made up of 33 Rotarians who are responsible for the restaurant, wine, sponsorship, ticket, cooking, logistics and VIP committees.
“The key is getting competent Rotarians in critical positions and then getting out of their way,” Olinger said.
This is why Olinger holds monthly meetings during the months leading up to the event.
He said it's not much different than the way he operated while in the U.S. Air Force. He retired as a colonel after 27 years.
“I’m organized because of the training,” Olinger said. “Whenever I headed up an organization, I’d give my officers a task and tell them to go make it happen. The thing about a plan is that it is only good until you implement it. That is why you have competent people there to solve the problem on the spot.”
Olinger has filled a binder with lessons learned about the wine festival. His binder includes drawings of each individual tent, copies of checks he has received from sponsors and importantly, Excel sheets with detailed time slots for each of the 95 volunteers who will be helping at this year’s wine fest.
“Everybody has to be assigned a task,” Olinger said. “I drew diagrams of the tents two years ago with individual slots for restaurants and wine distributors."