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Wine walk an event for wine lovers, foodies and charity

The area was closed to vehicles, with people filling the streets as they waited to receive souvenir wine glasses for the annual Wine Walk at The Shops at Wiregrass.

Some strolled leisurely down the roads and sidewalks, stopping in brightly lit shops after having their glasses filled at the wine tents along the way, while groups of runners took advantage of the barricaded streets, cool breeze and setting sun to jog down the center of the road.

It was a fondue of faces, from young lovers holding hands to retirees, and even a variety of dogs, mingling in the center courtyard and watching children wave as they rode by on the train ride circling through center court.

The event, hosted every Thursday evening in October, benefits the Jason Ackerman Foundation, a foundation started by the family of Jason Ackerman, who died in a tragic accident in 2006, while a junior at USF. The foundation provides scholarship programs and financial assistance for students who have faced
extreme hardships, such as debilitating health issues.

Participants were armed with wine passports that served as a directory of the plazas five different wine and hors doeuvre stations.

Jan Soran, a volunteer for the event from Jasons Jewels, said an absolute downpour had called off the event the week before, but the rain was no hindrance the second week.

Crowds formed around various wine tents.

Vendors served local wines from Keel and Curley Winery, Garland Wines, Time for Wine, Premier Beverage and Calendar Girl Wines. Each tent offered a glass for wine donation made at registration. They also offered bottles of wine available for purchase.

Along with the beverages, live music was featured on four stages throughout the Shops, coaxing participants from tent to tent, and also to various hors doeuvre stations. Ciao Italian Bistro, an Italian
restaurant at the shops that will open Oct. 15, served fresh miniature chocolate chip cannolis.

We are taking a real fun, young approach, Nick Giobinazzi, front store manager of Ciao, said.

Across the street from Ciao, The Brass Tap, an upscale beer bar, offered a promotional buy-one- get-one-free on all glasses of wine.

The Verizon Wireless located in the shops also offered $10 off any purchase during the hours of the event. Mochiberri followed suit, promoting a 15 percent discount on all frozen yogurt desserts.

After participants filled their glasses and sampled hors doeuvres, each station signed off on their “passport which gave individuals a chance to win a $100 Shops at Wiregrass gift card if they turned in the passport to the registration center by 8:30 p.m.

Its all a lot of fun, Alexis Sugha, a volunteer for the Ciao Italian Bistro tent, said as she handed out cannolis to participants with a sweet tooth.

But to the organizers, the event was more than just fun. Shannon Hannon Oliviero, executive director for the
Ackerman Foundation, said the organization raised $20,000 in 2011 through the $10 donations from Wine Walks alone.

The event runs from 6 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. every Thursday in October, with a different band lineup each week.

A few of the bands participating this Thursday will be the Steve Arvey Band in center court, Tropical Daze near JCPenney, Butch Thomas near Dillards and Will Erickson near Piazza Ave.

The Wine Walk is the perfect setting for a low-key night on the town not just for wine lovers, but for foodies as well.