Tuesday, May 25, 2010

From $140,000 to $90 Million: Auction Napa Valley's 29 years of giving

Auction Napa Valley
by John Shafer

It was the spring of 1981 at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Napa Valley Vintners membership held at the Lodi Farm Center and catered by Sally Schmitt, the founder/chef of the original French Laundry. As a new vintner it was an exciting time for me – lunching with such vintners as Louis Martini, Bob and Peter Mondavi, Hans Kornell, Al Bronstein, Jack Davies, and many other legendary figures in the Valley.

There was essentially only one item of business – planning for the vintners’ first Napa Valley Wine Auction. With the Hospice du Beaune auction in France as an example, it was decided that the Valley’s two hospitals, Queen of the Valley and St. Helena Hospital, would be the beneficiaries and thus the health needs of the county would be the priority.

With no prior experience, the vintners and many community volunteers agonized over the plans for the debut event – how many people would attend? How much would they bid on the donated bottles? How much money could we raise for the hospitals?

Meadowood Napa Valley’s golf course was (and is) the auction site and with a large local volunteer group, the first Napa Valley Wine Auction (today called Auction Napa Valley) took place. The total proceeds that first year, $140,000, was encouraging, and an annual event was born.

Now, almost 30 years later, everyone knows the answers to the questions that plagued the minds of the organizers that first year. So far, $90-million has been given – all earmarked for Napa County non-profit agencies involved with health, youth development and affordable housing. (With the financial success of the auction it was decided in 1999 to enlarge the scope of the giving to include agencies aimed at youth development and housing needs.)

Today there are approximately 45 non-profit organizations selected each year by a Grants Review Committee made up of vintner members of the Association.

The impact of Auction Napa Valley has made a major difference, not only in Napa County but throughout the United States. We have reason to believe that the idea of a wine auction as a fund-raising device in this country started with our first event in 1981. Today, the concept of an auction involving wines is widespread, with museums, symphonies, private schools, and many charities choosing it as a major way of raising money.

Looking back on these 29 years I have a real sense of pride – shared by all our vintners – in the generous contributions of the wineries. Their wine donations, elaborate dinners, expensive travels, and other hospitality activities, along with the wonderful community volunteers, have made our annual effort very fulfilling.

With proceeds varying in recent years, the Auction Board of Directors made an unprecedented promise to the community in 2007. Called the 5 x 5 Community Promise, the Auction committed to donate $5-million each year for five years to the nonprofits, regardless of whether the money was actually raised that year or not, making up the difference from the Auction Health Care Fund (a fund set up from the beginning as a “rainy day,” or reserve pot), as needed,

There are so many great examples of what this money has been able to do. I’ll leave you with just two that I found very moving.

-- Several years ago a little known problem faced by foster children came to the attention of the Auction – the issue of their emancipation. Napa, like many other cities, had its share of children who at age 18 were released to the community with little preparation for living on their own. A program called VOICES (Voice Our Independent Choices for Emancipation Support) was founded in collaboration with other Napa funders to help these young people set up their own facility and program in which they help each other.

-- Another agency supported by Auction funds is NEWS (Napa Emergency Women’s Services), aimed at helping women and children leaving an abusive relationship. For example, not long ago “Sandra” stayed at the NEWS shelter for three months while she worked at finding her way out of an abusive relationship. A court advocate helped her obtain a protective order and children custody papers. With the County’s Homeless Prevention program, “Sandra” received a rental subsidy so she and her children could move into a home of their own.

It has been thrilling to participate in the success of the Auction for nearly 30 years – both in its success as a leading philanthropic event and in its success implementing so many great programs that have enormously improved the wellbeing of this community. I look forward to another great event this year and raise a toast to everyone who works so diligently to make Napa Valley a better place to live.

Click here to view John’s video blog.

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