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Pennsylvania Wine & Food Festival returns to Monroeville

| Wednesday, June 11, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
Courtesy of Chris Simon

Ken Starr, owner of Starr Hill Vineyard & Winery, is a third-generation winemaker who participates in more than 50 wine festivals each year.

With that experience to give him knowledge of what makes a successful festival, he teamed up with Kelly Simon of Kelly Simon Event Management to create the first, and now second, Pennsylvania Wine & Food Festival at the Monroeville Convention Center.

This year's event is Saturday.

“I think what the Pittsburgh area really needs is a real big wine festival, and that's our goal,” said Starr, 50, of Pike Township, Clearfield County, where his winery is based. “As far as ticket sales and wine sales go for us, it was a successful event last year, and that merited another one to promote wines throughout Southwestern Pennsylvania.”

Simon, 52, of Greensburg said that more than 600 people attended last year's event and that their goal is attracting 1,000 wine lovers this year.

While the event's main attraction might be the wine, the festival also will feature more vendors of food and other items than last year's.

The organizers have made a few changes they hope will attract more people, and they think a key adjustment is moving up the time of the festival. Last year's inaugural Pennsylvania Wine & Food Festival was held in September, but they moved up this year's event to June.

“We wanted to do it in June last year, but we couldn't get dates at the convention center,” Simon said. “When it opened up this June, we took it immediately.”

The earlier date occurs just before Father's Day and close to the Fourth of July and happens at a time when more people might want to buy wine.

“It's a perfect time,” said Cynthia Helinski, the chief financial officer of Greenhouse Winery in Sewickley Township, Westmoreland County. “It's a very busy month for wine festivals. September is good, but in the early spring, people really want to get out and do something fun.”

Simon and Starr also decided to elongate the one-day event instead of having it broken up by separate sessions. While last year's event lasted a combined five hours between two sessions, this year's event will go from 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

They also increased the number of wineries that will be represented from 12 to 15, all of which are based in Pennsylvania and will provide free wine samples.

The Greenhouse Winery is returning from last year's festival.

“It was very successful for us last year because they were very well organized,” said Helinski, 50, of Sewickley Township.

She said she is looking forward to the second festival.

“The first one was really good, so when that's good, you anticipate the second annual one to get better,” Helinski said.

Organizers said there will be new food vendors at this year's festival, too.

Dave Kittey of Kittey's Pizzelles & Cookies, based in Latrobe, will have 15 types of pizzelles, a small variety of biscotti and 15 kinds of other cookies at the festival. He said it's the first time he'll be a food vendor at a wine festival.

“We had never considered doing shows like this because I work on the weekends,” said Kittey, 55, of Latrobe. “They reached out to us, and when we learned more, we really wanted to do it. We can really get outside of our area and reach a bigger audience.”

This year, there will be 75 exhibitors, compared to 52 last year, and two bands will be at the event.

The Bricks, a local acoustic band, will play from 1 p.m. to 4 p.m. As of June 6, organizers had not chosen a local band to perform during the second half of the festival.

Individual tickets may be purchased for $20 by Friday by calling 800-747-5599, and two tickets may be purchased for $35. Prices for tickets increase to $25 per individual and $45 per a pair if bought at the door. The ticket includes commemorative wine glass and unlimited wine samples. Admission for designated drivers is $10.

Shawn Annarelli is a freelance writer for Trib Total Media.

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