By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer
LOVELAND - Wine lovers attending the 13th annual Cincinnati International Wine Festival this weekend will no doubt raise a glass to honor Russell C. Wiles, founder of the festival.
It was Wiles who hosted the first festival, which boasted an attendance of 800, at the Hilton Netherland Plaza (then the Omni Netherland Plaza) in 1991.
Since then, the food and wine event - one of the biggest in the Midwest - has attracted increasingly larger crowds.
Mr. Russell, 64, died Monday at Bethesda North Hospital following a two-year bout with cancer.
As president of Heidelberg Distributing Co., he was known throughout the country as an enthusiast and a keen marketer of wine.
"Russ had a true passion for all aspects of the wine business," said Al Vontz III of Hyde Park, co-chairman of Heidelberg. "His rapport with both suppliers and customers is legendary."
But perhaps his biggest legacy is the wine festival, which has donated nearly $2 million to a dozen local charities and has "introduced thousands of people to the world of wine," said Vontz.
The two-day event, now held at the Albert B. Sabin Cincinnati Convention Center, includes tastings, seminars and special dinners prepared by some of Cincinnati's finest restaurants.
Born in Pulaski County, Ky., Mr. Wiles enlisted in the Army after his high school graduation and served three years. It was while he was stationed in Germany that he began drinking wine, he told the Enquirer in a 2000 interview.
Mr. Wiles acquired Ohio Valley Wine and Beer Co. in Sharonville shortly after he left the Army, and with his late partner, Bob Connelly, owned it for more than 20 years. In 1992, he joined Heidelberg and led the company's growth in five Ohio markets.
Earlier this year, Mr. Wiles was named wholesaler of the year by Ohio Tavern News, an industry publication. For more than 10 years he was chairman of the wine council of the Wholesale Beer and Wine Association of Ohio.
He loved to visit wineries around the world and served as a tour guide to Cincinnatians in California's Napa Valley.
His other passion was golf, but he made up for his time on the greens by preparing wonderful meals for his friends and family, said Connie Wiles, his wife of 16 years.
In addition to his wife, survivors include three sons, Mark Wiles of LeBarge, Wyo., Scott Wiles of Hyde Park and Adam Wiles of Clifton; four sisters, Gladys Flynn of West Chester Township, and Janice Cheek, Carolyn Mounce and Shirley Jo Cooper, all of Somerset, Ky.; four brothers, Harold, J.P., Vernon and David Wiles, all of Somerset; four grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Visitation is 3-7 p.m. Thursday at the Jon Deitloff Funeral Centre 4389 Spring Grove Ave., Winton Place. The funeral is 10 a.m. Friday at Norman Chapel, Spring Grove Cemetery.
Memorials: Cancer Family Care, 2421 Auburn Ave., Cincinnati 45219.
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