Sunsets are as much a part of the party at Mike Kwasin’s house as are the wine and food.
Every two months, Kwasin, 69, the owner of Fine Wine & Spirits Warehouse, opens his home on Tampa Bay to guests for wine-tasting fundraisers for local charities. The 10 years of events have resulted in more than $89,000 in donations to various groups including Head Start Foundation, Red Cross, Voices for Children, Moffitt Cancer Center and funds for slain Tampa police officers.
Recently the Humane Society was the beneficiary of one of Kwasin's parties, which typically draw between 75 and 250 guests. There were 44 wines available, plates of ham, cheese and crackers; and open doors to the balcony overlooking the salt water and the sunset.
“It’s an eclectic group that comes – and it is always changing with each different charity,” said Kwasin, who has owned the business for 29 years.
There is a core group of 50 or more individuals who regularly donate the requested $25 a person or $40 a couple to attend, he said. The rest are newcomers, like Corinne and Rud Mueller of Carrollwood.
“I volunteer at the Humane Society and we came to support them,” Corinne Mueller said.
Others, like Jane Crabtree and Marc Ginsburg, have attended for about five years.
“It’s a great way to sample wines,” Ginsburg said.
Kwasin said he got the idea for the parties because he always enjoyed wine tastings “and I wanted a way to raise money for charity.” The admission donation goes to the charity and his store benefits because wine can be ordered at the event. The customer gets a discount, usually between 20 or 25 percent per bottle, from the price on the shelves.
The party spreads through several open rooms, each lined with tables filled with wine, a foyer full of wine glasses and the kitchen with the food. It’s casual and informal with vendors discussing their selections, old friends catching up on news and new attendees marveling at the view.
“The house burned downed in 1977 and when I rebuilt it, I designed it with entertaining in mind,” said Kwasin, whose home includes a wine cellar with between 2,500 and 3,000 bottles of wine.
Kwasin’s neighbors on South Beach Drive usually get to choose the charities, “as if they pick, they don’t complain about cars parked all along the street.”
Occasionally Kwasin will choose the recipient, as he did with the Humane Society.
Nancy McCall, the Humane Society’s director of development, said she was pleased the organization had been selected.
“It’s a great benefit to get the people together to make a donation and to meet new people, too,” McCall said.
Volunteers, including Walter “Kip” Kuck III, assist with the event. Kuck was the general manager of Kwasin’s store for a number of years but now owns his own business, Carrollwood Fine Wine & Spirits.
He still returns to the parties because “they are so much fun and you never know who is going to show up.”
To receive information about future wine tastings, send your name, address and email to firstname.lastname@example.org.