In 1996 on the banks of the Thames River in Southeast Connecticut the origins of Mohegan Sun began with the 180,000 square-foot Casino of the Earth. It was a tribute to the heritage of the Mohegan Tribe. The casino was circular with four entrances representing the four seasons of the year. In 2001 the Casino of the Sky opened with four quadrants representing the natural elements of earth, fire, water and wind. It contained the world’s largest fully functional indoor planetarium dome and added 119,000 square-feet of gaming space. In 2002 the 34-story, 1,200 room hotel tower was completed. It included the 20,000 square-foot Elemis Spa and a 10,000 square-foot indoor pool. The Casino of the Wind opened in 2008 and added 45,000 square-feet of gaming space. It symbolizes the tribe’s history and contains a 55-foot tall waterfall.
Mohegan Sun casino is among the largest in the US with over 300,000 square-feet of gaming space. Casinos are measured by the amount of gaming space and the number of table games and slot machines. The Mohegan Sun has over 6,000 slot machines and more than 350 table games. The Mohegan Sun arena has a 10,000-seat capacity and is the home of the WNBA Connecticut Sun. There is the more intimate Cabaret Theatre with less than 350 seats and the 300 seat Wolf Den, in the center of the Casino of the Earth, where one can see free nightly shows. Coming with the family? There is a Kid’s Quest facility.
The Mohegan Sun has over 40 different restaurants, bars and lounges including: Michael Jordan’s, Todd English’s Tuscany, Bobby Flay’s Bar Americain, Ballo Italian Restaurant & Social Club and Jimmy Buffet’s Margaritville. There are 36 shops and specialty stores as well as Mohegan Sun Country Club at Pautipaug. The 18-hole course is less than 30 minutes from the casino.
The festivities started for the 10th Annual Sun WineFest Friday night with a Bourbon tasting ($90) and the use of a cigar lounge. Saturday featured a trade and press hour, followed by the Grand Tasting ($80-repeated on Sunday-$70) with over 1.000 wines, craft beers and spirits. Both days had chef demonstrations, including Todd English, Mary Ann Esposito and Donatella Arpaia. I heard the late Saturday afternoon grape stomp was fun for both the participants and spectators. I was told that the Elite Cru Tasting, with a separate admission of $200, (including admission to the Saturday Grand Tasting), was less crowded than the Grand Tasting. Wineries poured included: Duckhorn, Terlato Wines International, Moet Hennessy USA, Gloria Ferrer and Willamette Valley Vineyards. Approximately 10,000 people attended the two days of the Grand Tasting. Saturday night featured a Celebrity Chef Dine Around with separate food, wine and spirits stations ($185). Between the sessions there were winemakers’ seminars and book signings.
The weather forecast was for light snow so I decided not to drive but to take Amtrak to New London (2 1/2 hours) very early on Sunday morning. A casino limo picked me up and in 20 minutes I was relaxing in my room getting ready for the Sunday press and trade preview of the Grand Tasting. It was a great learning experience for me. The 11AM-Noon time also had All Things Food with Bobby Flay ($50 including a copy of his book- Burgers, Fries & Shakers). Since even I could not be in two places at once I choose the early entrance into the Grand Tasting. Sampled a Massachusetts apple ice wine from Still River and learned about the Taste of Massachusetts Wine Festival this June. Mead from the New Hampshire based Moonlight Meadery was another newcomer for me. I was charmed by the handcrafted ceramic wine charms by Dani Titterton.
I had a chance to become reacquainted with old friends including: The San Francisco Wine Exchange, Gallo Family Vineyards, Frederick Wildman & Sons, Winebow, Castello Banfi and Martin Scott Wines. What was different about The Sun Winefest was the multitude of beer tables, in a separate section, up one flight from the main hall. Not being a beer person I did have to try one of Brooklyn Brewery’s offerings. Interspersed among the wine tables, lifestyle and restaurant (extra charge) exhibitors were several spirit exhibitors including: The Balvenie, Beam, Hendrick’s Gin, Kahlua, Sailor Jerry Rum and Reyka Vodka.
A half hour after the doors opened for general admission I was in the fitness center, Jacuzzi and pool resting my aching feet. Refreshed, I returned to the Convention Center in time for the 9th Annual Mohegan Sun Oyster Open. The nation’s best oyster shuckers competed for a $5,000 purse. Dinner was at Ballo Italian Restaurant and then to the final event of the weekend- Bubbles and Bon Bons ($95). I watched Yannick Passemart, Connecticut on-premise manager for Moet Hennessy USA, saber several bottles of Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne. Three incredibly talented pastry chefs paired their desserts with Grand Marnier and Moet & Chandon Imperial Champagne. There were chairs and banquets throughout the Cabaret Theatre to sip and nibble. A most relaxing way to end the weekend.
A restful night, breakfast at Tuscany and a reverse limo ride back to the New London Amtrak station. The ride back was relaxing and uneventful as the predicted light snow did arrive but had no effect on my ride home. I look forward to the 11th annual Mohegan WineFest.
For More Information- www.mohegansun/sitelet/winefest.com
Photos by Ron Kapon- Mohrgan Sun- Diane Pontious- Khoi Ton