North Texas wine opener returns with cheers and tears

A sold-out crowd of 350 guests for the 7th annual North Texas Wine Opener reunited with old friends to support a cause dear to their hearts.

After the event’s year hiatus, ticket holders celebrated a wildly successful auction, applauded Morris Salerno’s gourmet meal and shed tears along with honored guest, 45-year-old Todd Vowels. The Wichita Falls husband and father shared his story of living with cystic fibrosis (CF), a degenerative lung disorder with a life expectancy of 37.

Event co-chair Jill Welke was thrilled at the evening’s success. “We took last year off out of respect for our generous sponsors and event supporters. It is so moving to see the community once again come out and support the North Texas Wine Opener and the courageous families living with CF.”

For the Viva Argentina! theme, Royal Affairs Ballroom in Old Town Lewisville was transformed into an Argentinean tango lounge for the evening, with splashes of tropical colors against the dark sophistication of the rich brown interior. The Strange family generously provided the elegant facility for the evening’s festivities. 

Upon arrival, beautifully dressed women wearing flowers in their hair and men in their boots and jackets entered through a large tent brimming with silent auction items. Sought-after items included Chanel glasses, Opus wine and artwork made especially by individuals living with CF.

After shopping while sipping Terrazas de los Andes wine, provided for the third year by event sponsor Ed Kukol, the guests were greeted inside the door at the wine pull by John Carter and Gail Slangerup, long-time supporters and volunteers. Guests donated $20 in exchange for a bottle of wine valued at no less than $20 and possibly up to $100. 

Says Kukol: “This is the most worthwhile charity event that I’m involved with. I hate the disease, but I love the Wine Opener.”

Award-winning WFAA Chief Meteorologist Pete Delkus graciously served as honorary chair for the event again this year. He offered inspirational words to the guests about the efforts of so many working to find a cure for cystic fibrosis. The North Texas Wine Opener is the only all-volunteer-run event for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation (CFF).

Delkus explained, “Unless you have a friend or relative with CF, you probably know very little about this disease or how it affects the daily routines of anyone living with it. Tonight is really about  …raising funds and awareness that will support new and ongoing research to cure CF.”

Like Kukol and Delkus, many volunteers and sponsors support the North Texas Wine Opener year after year and have helped contribute to the $1 million netted for the CFF since the event’s inception.  George and Dianne Paroubek, sponsors since 2006, say it’s a great local event that they are glad to support. Dr. Lisa Pierce has sponsored the Wine Opener for the last three years because several patients in her psychiatric practice had siblings with CF.

Cindy Hahn, mother of four-year-old Avery, who carries the CF gene, said: “I support the North Texas Wine Opener in hopes that my daughter won’t have to worry about having children with CF if she chooses to marry a carrier.” More than 10 million Americans are symptomless carriers of the defective CF gene.

Parents like Bob Jones, whose 11-year-old son Matthew battles CF, acknowledged that support from sponsors and volunteers is critical.  He spoke to the guests that evening about recent medical advances researchers are discovering because of funds raised at events like the North Texas Wine Opener.

“A cure is near,” Jones says. “When we visited with CF researchers at Southwestern Medical recently, they told us, ‘we’re working ourselves out of a job.’” The Wine Opener crowd cheered and applauded the news.

For Todd Vowels, a cure can’t come fast enough. This year’s video featured Vowels and was produced for the event by Michael Barton of Barton Productions-Southlake.  The captivating story told of one man’s life journey with CF. Diagnosed at age 5, Vowels has seen 40 years of medical treatments, from the early digestive enzymes he used to sprinkle on his food in the “dinosaur era of CF” to the vest and inhalers used in treatments today.

“This is a disease that needs to be fixed,” Vowels says. “If scientists can uncover the problem at a molecular level — and they are close — it would be the equivalent of what happened to the home appliance industry when electricity was created. Nothing will ever be the same.”

Guests this year watched the video while enjoying a culinary trip to Argentina. Morris Salerno artfully prepared a three-course seated dinner. A first course plate featured baby greens, artisan goat cheese and asparagus. The main course showcased two perfectly prepared cuts of beef, roasted vegetables and risotto followed by dulce de leche with spring berries in a nod to the Argentinean theme. 

The evening ended with a “raise the roof” live auction featuring several exciting travel destinations like South America, the California wine country and Park City, Utah. Skilled auctioneer Boyd Earp from GDP Auctioneer Services upped the bids for a VIP NASCAR experience and a wine fridge filled with “65 rosés,” bottles of premium wine and champagne in keeping with the “65 Roses” theme attributed to CF. The most exciting auction item was a gourmet pizza party for 12 with a case of wine that auctioned for $6,700 … twice!

With tears in his eyes, Vowels looked across the packed Royal Affairs Ballroom and said: “I’m amazed by this…it’s unreal…this is our hope.”

Funds raised at events like the Wine Opener buy hope and event co-chair Eric Welke adds: “The 2011 event may be over, but opportunities remain to contribute to the North Texas Wine Opener fundraising totals.”

To find out how to contribute to the North Texas Wine Opener and the CFF, visit

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