Series of Sumptuous Feasts for Belle Grove

Posted: January 31, 2014

The Winchester Star

Belle Grove Plantation

Middletown — Belle Grove Plantation is working to fill people’s social calendars in the coming year while bolstering its finances with its annual Hite of Excellence fundraiser.

The historic house in Middletown will launch its Series of Sumptuous Feasts, now in its 17th year, with a cocktail party Feb. 7 that is the first opportunity to buy tickets for the events, said Kristen Laise, executive director.

Many of the series’ 14 culinary outings, which will be held from March to December, are small and have a limited number of tickets. So while the cocktail party is an entertaining evening out at Belle Grove, one of its biggest attractions is getting first dibs on the tickets, she said.

“Each year 12 to 14 events are planned that provide behind-the-scenes experiences at Belle Grove and other Shenandoah Valley historic properties,” she said. “These are fun, social events that feature good food and drink and a chance to meet new people.”

The cocktail party will be held from 7 to 10 p.m. at Belle Grove, 336 Belle Grove Road. Tickets are $35 per person or $60 for a couple and include cocktails, hors d’oeuvres, and valet parking.

People who cannot make it to the cocktail party may order a $5 booklet at bellegrove.orgthat lists the events that have not sold out.

Thanks to generous underwriting from Belle Grove board members and private and corporate donors, 100 percent of proceeds from ticket sales go to support the house’s museum operations, preservation projects, and educational programs, Laise said.

The 2013 series raised about $25,000, making it the house’s second-largest fundraiser after its annual Of Ale and History Beer Festival in May, she said.

“It is a really significant income stream for us. Plus we think it helps people interact with our site in a more in-depth way,” she said.

The series will be a mix of new events and returning favorites, all food related, said Suzanne Conrad, chair of the series and a board member. “The schedule this year is going to be so much fun for people. You have so many choices and so many different things to do.”

Conrad and her husband, John, will sponsor a new Wild Flower Hike and Luncheon April 26 that was inspired by seeing “how beautiful the wildflowers are around the house.”

Participants will take a hike somewhere in the countryside near Belle Grove led by Dr. Woodward Bousquet, professor of environmental studies and biology chair of Shenandoah University, and followed by lunch at the house.

After a successful screening last year of “Gone With the Wind,” the series will feature another movie night. “Gods and Generals” will be shown July 9 at the Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, along with an evening of southern cuisine and drinks, Laise said.

“We were trying to feature the Civil War because 2014 is the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Cedar Creek,” she said, which took place near the historic site. “There are some featured characters like Stonewall Jackson that are Valley related.”

The goal of the series is to have a range of options in price, formality, and geographic location, Laise said. They even wanted to offer a family option.

Organizers are hoping a Holiday Tea Party at Belle Grove Plantation Dec. 13 will attract mothers, daughters, and grandmothers wanting a festive event during the Christmas season that they can do together, she said.

One of the most exclusive events on the schedule is Meeting the Madisons — eight people will be transported to President James Madison’s home, Montpelier, for a VIP tour, followed by lunch at board member Page Solenberger’s house in Orange, Laise said.

“Belle Grove has a connection to the Madison family and to Montpelier. It was the home of Nelly Madison Hite, who married Major Isaac Hite Jr., the founder of Belle Grove,” she said.

Two of the most popular returning favorites are An Elegant Evening at Belle Grove June 7, and Champagne at Sunset, Oct. 4, Laise said. Both offer a different experience at the 1797 manor house than the average visitor would get.

The June event features a multi-course dinner in the dining room, which is a “premium event that people really enjoy,” while the October event involves sipping champagne to live music on the house’s front portico as the sun sets, she said. “Those are some classics we love to repeat because they always do well.”

The rest of this year’s offerings are a Lords and Ladies Dinner, March 29; Tombs to Blooms, May 31; Australian Country Dinner, June 21; Art in the Barn, July 25; Dinner with Friends at Griffin Tavern in Flint Hill, sometime in August; VIP Luncheon at Belle Grove’s Wine Festival, Sept. 13; Extravagant Wine and Dine at North Mountain Vineyard, Nov. 7, and Cocktails at Christmas, Dec. 13.

Although it is not part of the Hite of Excellence series, volunteers will be needed for some of these events as well as the regular season, so the house will have a Valentine’s Day Dessert Party for prospective volunteers at 2 p.m. Feb. 14. To reserve a space, contact Chelsea Kashani, outreach and volunteer coordinator, at 540-869-2028 or ckashani@bellegrove.org by Feb. 12.

Information

Tickets to the different “Hite of Excellence” events will go on sale at the kickoff cocktail party at 7 p.m. Feb. 7 at Belle Grove Plantation, 336 Belle Grove Road, Middletown. Tickets to the cocktail party are $35 per person or $60 for a couple. Contact 540-869-2028 or go to bellegrove.org.

— Contact Laura McFarland at lmcfarland@winchesterstar.com