Setting yet another record, the 15th annual Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction raised $1.2 million over the summer, the Sonoma Index-Tribune reports.
“We really exceeded our goal,” said Grant Raeside, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance, which sponsors the weekend of events. “We’re extremely excited about our results.”
On Sunday of the auction weekend, Cline Cellars became the site of an Old West corral for the theme, “The Wild Bunch.” About 600 guests piled in to feast on cowboy grub like barbecue strip steak, pinquito beans and Vella Dry Jack mac ‘n’ cheese.
The Western motif was reflected in an abundance of cowboy hats and boots, the appearance of a cowgirl troop of lariat artists who performed periodically on stage with precisely synchronized twirling ropes, the presence of Sonoma City Councilmember Ken Brown dressed as Clint Eastwood (complete with a cheroot in his teeth), and the legendary dance revue Magnum Force festooned with red bandanas.
Each of the 58 auction lots received a unique introduction. There was everything from a Hawaiian hula dancer to a juvenile bagpipe and Scottish dance team. There were Tommy and Marcy Smothers (and the inevitable yo-yo performance), cowboy poet and humorist Pat Richardson (“I’m thinkin’ about suing Budweiser for all the ugly girls I’ve dated), and countless winemakers in Western regalia promoting the generous donations.
The biggest auction lot of the day, which garnered $72,000, came from the Benziger Family Winery, which donated both a new 2007 Toyota Prius along with a year’s worth of gas, and a specially prepared dinner from Preston Dishman, chef at the General’s Daughter restaurant.
The new venue, which switched this year from the Sonoma Mission Inn because of space limitations, allowed the auction crowd to spread out, and there was actually room to walk among the tables where guests were gathered.
Wine flowed freely from the open wine bar and, toward the end of the event, buffet tables were loaded with platters of baked pastries from Artisan Bakers.
Eleven Valley nonprofits will see boosts in their budgets thanks to the auction:
* Vineyard Workers Services
* Valley of the Moon Boys & Girls Club
* WillMar Center for Bereaved Children
* Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance
* Sonoma Valley Hospital Foundation
* Sonoma Valley Education Foundation
* Sonoma Valley Community Health Center
* Sonoma Community Center
* La Luz
* Kenwood Education Foundation
* FISH (Friends In Sonoma Helping)
Many nonprofits take monies raised from the auction to expand their services. For example, Kathy Witkowicki, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Mentoring Alliance, said she hopes to use the funds to bring on 50 to 60 new mentors.
“We’re a program kids want to be in,” she said, adding that currently the alliance has a waiting list of 130 children. She plans to use some of the money on advertising to recruit new mentors, and spend the rest on supplies to keep the program thriving.
Patricia Talbot, chief executive officer of the Sonoma Valley Community Health Center, also plans to expand services by implementing electronic medical records. Since many of the patients of the health center are migrant workers who are consistently on the move, it is difficult to keep complete medical records. Electronic medical records would allow a doctor anywhere in the world to pull records from a secure Internet site, vastly improving the access to health information.
Other nonprofits have come to depend on auction proceeds to keep their general programs going. Vicki Schnurpfeil, volunteer for FISH (Friends In Sonoma Helping), said the organization’s regular expenses include around $8,000 a month for rent and $110,000 a year for food expenses.
“We meet basic human needs. The needs, unfortunately, are growing because the cost of living in Sonoma is so high,” Schnurpfeil said, adding that all the money will directly benefit FISH clients. “FISH is an all-volunteer organization; we have not one dime in salary.”