After 25 years, the West Virginia Wine and Jazz Festival will surpass $500,000 in donations back to the local community and the state of West Virginia. The festival is held one weekend in September every year in Monongalia County.
David Bell, a member of the board of directors, said the festival didn’t start as a nonprofit. Originally, Forks of Cheat Lake Winery owner Jerry Deal and his friend Peter “Pro” — both members of the board — conceived it as a for-profit event. That only lasted for one year before the festival began providing funding for WVU scholarships, public school music programs, and even monetary donations following the historic 2016 flooding in southern West Virginia.
“They were just sitting around having a glass of wine one day and said, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a wine and jazz festival?’ ” Bell said.
That support is helped by the 7,500 to 8,000 people who spend at least one day at Camp Muffly for the two-day festival — a number that still shocks Bell.
“We have to do it whenever (WVU) has an away game or an off week,” Bell said. “And that works out pretty well, because it gives people something to do. And they enjoy coming out to this festival.”
“I don’t know why,” he added. “But, I guess it might be a little bit of the wine, but also the vendors we have for food and also the music — our regional jazz bands. They come to hear them.”
Year 25, Bell said, is expected to be a milestone in more ways than just the celebration of a quarter-century of fermented grapes and brass instruments.
“This year, we will go over a half a million dollars back into the community,” he said. “And we have about $130,000 into our account at the WVU Foundation, which supports scholarships to WVU.”
A significant portion also goes back to Camp Muffly — the festival’s home and the primary site for 4-H activities.
For those who attended the event — like sisters Sommar and Sami Swisher — the event is simultaneously fun, relaxing, lively, and “definitely worth” the money spent.
“It was a wonderful,” Sami Swisher said.
Her sister added: “It was a blast.”
The two Blacksville natives said this was their first time attending, but are already looking forward to returning next year.
“Lots of good food, music,” Sommar said. “Lots of good wine.”
The musicians are mostly regional, though Bell said some come from as far away as New York. The festival, though, offers a distinctly West Virginian vibe, regardless of where the musicians, the vendors, or the crowd originally hail.
He said it’s the philanthropy that truly sets it apart.
“It’s basically what we can do back for the community, especially our music in the schools program,” Bell said. “I mean, we go all over the place. Last year, after the big floods in 2016, we were able to donate almost $15,000 to the schools in the southern part of the state that lost their schools.
“We were able to get their music programs back up and running again.”