Twenty Years of Drinking for a Good Cause
By Natasha Habib
Once a year, Fleurs et Vin brings wine from all over the world to Dayton, Ohio. As approximately 1,000 attendees sample more than 300 different wines and food from 25 local restaurants, they help support local charities. On Fleurs et Vin’s 20th anniversary, drink to preserving local history and the education and prevention of HIV and AIDS with this year’s beneficiaries, Dayton History and AIDS Resource Center Ohio.
The event was founded by the owners of two local family owned and operated businesses, Heidelberg Distributing Company and their largest independent retailer in Dayton, Arrow Wine and Spirits. Vail Miller Sr. of Heidelberg Distributing and Mike Frank of Arrow Wine want Daytonians to enjoy wine more often.
“Every holiday period — October, November — we’d get together as companies, Arrow Wine and Heidelberg, to talk about the holidays and the products we’re hoping that they would promote during that period. And we got to talking about having a festival,” says Vail Miller Sr. “At that time, per capita consumption in Dayton, Ohio was probably under 1.5 gallons per person a year. We were probably ranked 40th in the country. So we thought maybe we’d get more people to come to an event that was reasonably priced and they could be exposed to wine-makers and brands that they hadn’t heard of before. Then maybe we could get them to have wine on occasion rather than just during the holidays.”
The festival had to overcome some challenges and evolved over time with changing locations and charities. One year, they had to change the day of the event on short notice when they realized alcohol couldn’t be served at that location on a Sunday.
“We had some growing pains,” says Mike Frank. With the help of their sons, Vail Miller Jr. and Mif Frank, however, they’ve seen the festival flourish.
“In the early years, everybody who came was a regular wine drinker. The whole object is to bring people who would really like to know more about wine,” says the elder Miller. “Now we see people that we don’t recognize, people who’ve driven from Kentucky or Indiana, or from Centerville, who want to learn more about wine. It’s become what we hoped it would be 20 years ago, so it’s really working. We’d like to build it to more than a thousand people, and I think it will if we just keep working.”
Wine Brings People Together
Both Heidelberg Distributing and Arrow Wine are very much family businesses, with relatives working in various positions within the companies. For some people, just getting together with relatives during the holidays can be a chore, but for the Millers and Franks, working alongside family members is an aspect of the business that they really enjoy.
“I get to work with my father, and when I joined the business, my grandfather was still involved,” says the younger Miller. I have an uncle and my siblings and my mother, we all work in the business together. And it’s not often that you find families that like to be around each other.”
“Family businesses can be tough,” says his father. “We’re all going to have different views on issues — it usually comes down to money.” In the end though, working with loved ones is a positive thing.
“We’ve always gotten along, made it work, had fun,” says Mike Frank.
Family businesses are common in the wine industry.
“Ninety percent of those companies are family-owned,” says Vail Miller Sr. “Sure, there are a couple of corporate big-players, but most of the people we do business with are families.”
“I like the fact that you’re dealing with so many other family businesses,” says his son. “You get a wide circle of people in your life. From the people who grow the grapes, to the people who make the wine, to the salespeople who sell us the goods — and then you get all the great customers. You have a great collection of people in your life.”
For Mif Frank, though, working in the family business wasn’t always where he thought he would end up. He started working at his father’s business, Arrow Wine, during college.
“I started from a bottom, entry level position and I hated retailing,” he says. “It was definitely something that I didn’t want to do my entire life, but it just kind of grew on me.”
“When he was in school,” says his father, “I kept saying, “What are you going to do when you graduate?” And he said, “I haven’t decided yet but I know I’m not going to do this.” And he just kept hanging around and I kept saying, “Are you interviewing or sending out resumes?” “Nah, I haven’t done that yet.” And he still hasn’t.”
“I began to enjoy it and I never really pursued anything else,” says Mif Frank. “It grew on me and today I really love it.”
They all really love wine also, of course.
“What I like about wine is the fact that it’s diverse,” says the elder Miller. “There’s alcohol and I enjoy it in moderation … I think that it aids in digestion, it’s good for your heart, it helps you sleep … It’s celebratory.” When asked what his favorite wine is, he answers, “Everything we sell,” with a smile.
“It complements your food,” says Mike Frank. “Wine makes your food taste better, I think, if you try to pair them properly … It just makes your dinner more enjoyable.” Plus, it’s delicious.
Through Fleurs et Vin (French for “flowers and wine”), it’s as though the Millers and Franks are inviting you into their families and inviting you to make wine part of your family’s lifestyle, too.
“We’re all in an industry that we’ve grown to love,” says the younger Miller, “and how do we pass that love and enthusiasm on and help to raise a little bit of money and help some other people along the way? [Fleurs et Vin] is a triple win, if you will. We have fun exposing people to wine, other people get to benefit from us throwing a party around something we love and then we can create some dollars that go to help other people in our community.”
Keeping the money local is important to them, and with Carillon Historical Park hosting the event, Dayton History is a natural fit as a beneficiary of the event. ARC Ohio is also an organization they wanted to support.
“To do the event, to get the permit, you have to have a charity involved,” says Vail Miller Sr. “So we wanted to do it from a health standpoint cause.”
“Wine is a health food,” says Mike Frank.
In the past, between $50,000 and $70,000 has been raised for the charities involved, with a lot of the variation due to the weather, and if Fleurs et Vin can take place outdoors or not. There are tents though, so the event happens whether it’s raining or shining. Because it’s outside, Special Events Director for ARC Ohio Lisa Grigsby offers this piece of advice:
“Don’t wear heels,” she says, adding that she has seen many women sink into the grass.
For those who don’t drink wine, a Belgian beer garden will also be set up, making for tens of thousands of dollars worth of beer and wine at the event. In general, Heidelberg Distributing sells 7,000 different items — including beer, wine and spirits.
“But we’re adding ten new items a day on average,” says the younger Miller.
“Five or six various wine distributors in the state of Ohio also take part [in Fleurs et Vin],” says Mike Frank. Full lists of the different types of beer and wine are available on the website www.fleursetvin.com. Despite the 300 various types of wine — and wine smoothies — available at the event, novice or even thus-far non wine drinkers shouldn’t be intimidated.
“Wine is for everyone,” says Amy Tierney, the On Premise Sales Manager for the Allied division of Heidelberg Distributing.
“Everybody’s tastes are different,” says Vail Miller Jr. “The great thing about Fleurs is that you get to sample all these little tastes and you can go around and really, as a novice, start to figure out what it is that you really do like. And I wouldn’t say that there is a right place or a wrong place to start.”
The experts behind the counters will also be happy to help you out, and can offer advice on which wines to pair with which foods that are available from the different independent restaurants, all of which are local.
“Enjoy the restaurants that you’ve never heard of,” advises Grigsby.
“It’s an opportunity to try wines of all styles from all over the world in one setting,” says Mif Frank, “and to educate as well as to enjoy.”
Also, don’t be afraid to spit out a wine you don’t like — and don’t be afraid to spit it out if you are trying to maximize your tasting while minimizing your inebriation, too.
“We expect people to do that,” says Grigsby, noting that buckets for that purpose are placed on each table. With all the choices, it’s understandable if you have a hard time remembering — even sober — which wines you tried and liked, so take notes. Or, utilize a quicker and more tech-savvy means of keeping track.
“Use your cell phone and take a picture of the label,” says Mike Frank, whose son noted that they are seeing more customers at Arrow Wine using this method to find what they’re looking for, rather than trying to describe a label to store associates from memory.
For those who have attended Fleurs et Vin before, there are new beer and wine selections to choose from every year, and even old favorites may taste slightly different.
“With each vintage, with each year, Mother Nature gives you a little different interpretation of the particular wine,” says Vail Miller Jr. “It’s one of the many things that people who love wine, what they dig about it is that every vintage wine may taste a little different. And when you taste something older, you’re tasting a piece of history.”
Vintage bottles of wine often show up in the silent or live auctions.
“Those are usually donated by individuals,” says Mike Frank. Gift certificates, theater and event tickets are also items up for auction, which help raise additional funds.
“From a charity standpoint, it’s an amazing thing to have companies like this that are so willing to give,” says Grigsby. “Their goal is obviously to get people to drink more wine, but they are so generous in what they do for the charities in town, not just for this event. It’s great to have community partners that care.”
“If our community’s not healthy, it’s doubtful our business will be healthy,” notes the younger Miller. “To watch something that my father and Mr. Frank have created and be able to continue to work on teams and see something that still is going 20 years from the first event is pretty cool to be a part of.”
As always, drink responsibly.
“Pace yourself and drink lots of water,” says Mif Frank. “Relax and enjoy. It’s a marathon, not a sprint.”
“There’s no rush,” says Grigsby. “There’s always plenty of wine and plenty of food.”
(Fleurs et Vin takes place Sunday, May 20 at Carillon Historical Park in Dayton. Free parking is available on-site. The tasting runs from 1 to 4p.m. with a live auction to follow. Tickets are $70 at the park, $60 in advance, available online and at local wine shops, listed online. Reserved tables of 10 are also available for $1,000 and include VIP parking and entrance. All guests must be 21 years of age or older with a valid photo ID. For more information, visit www.fleursetvin.com or call (937) 461-2437 x2029.)
Reach DCP freelance writer Natasha Habib at NatashaHabib@DaytonCityPaper.com