It was through his travels that Eric Stein, owner of Decanter Fine Wines, in Columbia, found himself at a wine tasting event benefitting an educational institution in Maryland.
Stein, who had been involved in a previous fundraising event at Howard Community College (HCC), liked the concept and brought the idea to the college, while putting his own spin on it. Committee members liked what they heard, and eleven years ago, Vino Scholastico was born.
Vino Scholastico, a distinctive wine tasting event that raises funds for HCC student scholarships, returns Friday, April 28, to the college’s campus and is expected to bring a crowd of 400. What began as a night of wine, catered food and music — drawing a modest crowd of 30 in its first year — has evolved during the last decade into a must-attend event, featuring fine wines, craft beers and spirits and a gourmet food selection provided by local and regional restaurants.
“What began as a very tiny event has grown to where we’ve raised more than $365,000 for financial scholarships,” said Stein, co-chair of Vino Scholastico. “The concept has remained the same, but it’s expanded in its offerings.”
Having an educational portion to the event is a must each year, he said.
The evening will start with a limited seating presentation by Ridgeback Wines of South Africa. Attendees will learn from wine enthusiasts as they share their secrets and passion behind their wine, enjoy select tastings and have opportunities to ask questions.
To follow, there’s an evening full of not just wine, but craft beers and spirits. The addition of beer and spirits in recent years has resulted in a broader audience.
“It was dominantly a wine event, then when craft beer and bourbon’s popularity upturned, we decided to expand our offerings,” Stein said. “We’ve tried to stay on trend on what’s being offered at the event.”
Food selection has also evolved. Last year, Vino Scholastico switched from catered offerings to a “taste of Howard County,” featuring local restaurants and engaging HCC’s culinary program, said Kari Ebeling, assistant director of development at HCC.
“It was very well received,” Ebeling said. “People absolutely loved it.”
This year’s event will feature local and regional restaurants including Baldwin’s Station, Glory Days, Grotto Pizza, Houlihan’s, Mango Grove, Ranazul, Seasons 52, Tino’s Italian Bistro and Whole Foods Market Columbia.
Brielle Ferguson, marketing specialist for Whole Foods Market Columbia, called Vino Scholastico the “perfect place” to showcase its menu. “We’ll be sampling some of our newest creations, such as our Two-Bite Skewers, Queso Crostinis, and Caramelized Pineapple Lettuce Wraps,” she said.
Those with a sweet tooth can get their hands on some tasty treats provided by HCC’s culinary program. Last year, culinary students made a tropical sculpture and 1,200 pieces of chocolate candy, said Chef David Milburn, assistant professor of baking and pastries at HCC. Milburn is still deciding what to present this year, but hinted at a cake and finger desserts. Wondering what to drink with your dish or dessert? No problem. Advising guests on what wine to pair with their food is something Matt Johnson, of Constantine Wines, enjoys most about Vino Scholastico.
“I always take a white wine from the Santorini region of Greece to pair with seafood — that’s what God intended,” he said. “It’s a great tip for me to share.”
Brandon Thornton, of The Country Vintner, will have two tables at the event. One will feature wine from Argentina and the other will feature offerings from around the world. He enjoys introducing guests to new wines and taking them out of their comfort zone.
“I enjoy giving people a chance to taste wines they may not be familiar with and broaden their wine knowledge,” he said. “It’s also just a lot of fun to meet new people and get a chance to taste some wines from other suppliers.”
Stein said Vino Scholastico is a great evening of entertainment and socializing over delicious food and drinks.
“I can’t think of too many places you can sample beverages and quality food at this cost,” he said.

Event Details
What: An evening of fine wines, craft beers and spirits featuring a taste of area restaurants and desserts by Howard Community College Culinary Program.
When: Friday, April 28
Where: Howard Community College Health Sciences Building lobby and main floor (HSB)
10901 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia
Times: 6:30–10 p.m.: Vino Scholastico
6:30–7:30 p.m.: Featured Vineyard Tasting
7:30–10 p.m.: General Tasting
For more information or to purchase tickets, $50 for general tasting and $125 for the Vino Scholastico event, visit