A night for savoring wine and history

Family lore among Grima descendants tells of a wine heist that took place during federal occupation of New Orleans in the turbulent years of the Civil War. Felix Grima, a vocal Southern sympathizer with two sons enlisted in the Confederate army, refused to sign an oath of allegiance to the Union and was ordered to vacate his residence at 820 St. Louis Street by command of Major General Benjamin Butler (a military leader so despised by New Orleanians he earned the nickname “Beast”). Before the Grimas hastily fled to Augusta, Georgia, where they would remain in exile until the end of the conflict, the family reputedly tossed their wine collection and silverware into the courtyard well for clandestine safekeeping.

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In 19th-century New Orleans alcoholic beverages were acquired in barrels directly off arriving ships or from merchants. After purchase the wine or beer would be put into bottles that were recycled for use and kept stored in a room on the ground level of the slave quarters at the Hermann-Grima House.

Union soldiers quartered in the abandoned home discovered the loot and availed themselves of the liquid refreshment. They left the fine cutlery submerged in the water.

On Saturday, April 23, wine will once again be served in the courtyard of the Hermann-Grima House, but under far more refined circumstances. Amazing Grapes, the annual wine tasting and auction that funds educational programming at the historic house museums, will be held under the stars with numerous vintages and varieties up for sampling and bidding. Paired with gourmet food from Broussard’s, music from the Gumbo Trio, socializing among the museum’s loyal patrons, and a romantic setting in one of the Vieux Carré’s most picturesque outdoor spaces, the evening is among the most elegant to be found in the French Quarter.

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More than 150 bottles of wine are up for bidding at the 2016 Amazing Grapes.

“Amazing Grapes brings us back to the warm, inclusive hospitality of the sort that the Hermanns and Grimas would have shown to their guests,” said Mamie Gasperecz, executive director of the Hermann-Grima + Gallier Historic House Museums. “You can go home again. It makes the house come alive in a beautiful and sophisticated way.”

In addition to wine, Amazing Grapes offers an array of other items for sale, ranging from a week’s stay in a beachfront condo at Perdido Key, Florida, and private tours of wineries in Oregon and California to gift certificates for spa treatments, pet grooming, fine dining, and exercise classes. All bidding is conducted online and participants are not required to attend the event.

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Squeaky Suggs Connolly, Elizabeth Nulty Smither, and Helen Nulty Butcher dressed in antebellum attire for Soirée at the Hermann-Grima House in the late 1970s.

Amazing Grapes was an outgrowth of Soirée, a fundraiser first held at the Hermann-Grima House in 1972 by the Christian Woman’s Exchange (now the Woman’s Exchange), owners of the property since 1924. Soirée included historical reenactments with participants dressed in antebellum attire followed by a formal wine dinner at the Royal Orleans Hotel. A teacher from Louise S. McGehee School would lead children in singing French folk songs and 19th-century children’s games would be staged in the courtyard.

In 1989 the event was rebranded as Amazing Grapes and it remains a much anticipated springtime evening for lovers of wine and history. For tickets and to bid on items, click here.

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