An attendee prepares to taste-test one of the wine selections during KANDU Industries’ 2019 Grapes and Hops beer and wine fundraiser at the Armory in Janesville. This year’s event takes place Feb. 14 at the same location.

JANESVILLE—Liz Rondon said KANDU Industries doesn’t have a large operation.

On the development side, there are just four people—two full time and two part time.

And when it comes to Grapes & Hops, a wine-and beer-tasting fundraiser the organization has hosted for several years, the group leans heavily on local connections to expand its reach.

Rondon, KANDU’s development coordinator, said her “small but mighty” group counts on 15 teams of local “celebrities” to sell tickets, land sponsorships, acquire auction items and assist in promoting the event. Those teams, which range from between one and three people each, come from local groups and businesses such as Mercyhealth, Rotary Botanical Gardens, Data Dimensions and several others.

The teams, Rondon said, compete as pourers to see who can raise the most money; who gets first, second and third place for “Team of the Year,” and who wins the “People’s Choice Pourers” award. They dress in costumes (last year, someone dressed as Sasquatch) and add themes to their booths to draw attention.

Event proceeds benefit KANDU Industries and its mission of creating and promoting community opportunities for people with disabilities or disadvantages.

The Grapes & Hops fundraiser will take place the evening of Valentine’s Day at the Armory in Janesville, so Rondon is hoping couples will come out for a special “date night.” Tickets are $60 in advance and $70 at the door, and live music, hors d’oeuvres and auctions will be featured.

Duane Worden will provide the musical entertainment. Rondon said he has been involved with the event for as long as it has been going.

“He is phenomenal,” Rshe said. “He can play anything. He can go from jazz to blues to rock, country. He plays it all.”

But the main draw of the event, which was formerly known as Wine Wonderland when it began in 2006, is the tastings. KANDU renamed the event Grapes & Hops in 2013 when it incorporated beer into the mix.

Rondon said this is the first year Timber Hill Winery of Milton and Wines for Humanity in Illinois will take part. Also new this year is a build-your-own pasta station.

The list of expected beverages exceeds 40 and features wines from France, Italy, New Zealand and other locations. A dessert wine from Iron River also will be introduced.

When it comes to lining up celebrity pourers, KANDU gives past participants first right of refusal, Rondon said. Beyond those connections, KANDU looks for those who are passionate about the organization’s mission.

At Grapes & Hops, pourers compete for trophies and bragging rights through fundraising. Auctioning items can help greatly in boosting money totals.

Rondon said, one year, a trip to Colorado went for far more than its list value—helping that team win first place.

Rondon said she always hopes celebrity pourers will return each year because it means they see the event as a win-win for both KANDU and their own companies.

Because one of KANDU’s programs involves connecting clients to local jobs, Rondon believes events such as Grapes & Hops helps lead those businesses to potential future employees.

“The bottom line is we want to just keep our entire community abreast of what’s going on,” she said.