Some people make fun of the annual Napa Valley wine auction, calling it an exercise in excess.
Well, it may be that… but it also generates millions of dollars that are donated to charitable causes for the betterment of the valley’s communities and people.
Just a few days ago, the Napa Valley Vintners awarded $7.26 million in grants, distributing the proceeds of this year’s Auction Napa Valley to local nonprofits in fields ranging from health care to education to affordable housing.
“It’s the most incredible gift,” said Kathryn Winter, who accepted $80,000 on behalf of Fair Housing Napa Valley. “There’s no way to describe the euphoria.”
More than 50 organizations received grants during a special ceremony, held at the Lincoln Theater in Yountville. This year’s grants bring the total proceeds of the Wine Auction’s 28-year history to $85 million.
“Personally, I would like to hug each of the bidders,” said District Attorney and auction volunteer Gary Lieberstein. “If they could only know how many lives they save and how much business they keep out of my office.”
During the ceremony, emcee Barry Martin, the public information officer for the city of Napa, sauntered up to the stage with a briefcase cuffed to his wrist. Accompanied by two security guards, he riled up the crowd — about 400 people, including grant recipients and auction volunteers — shouting, “We’ve got a suitcase full of money to give away, so let’s get started.”
According to the St. Helena Star, the largest grants, totaling $1.7 million, went to Community Health Clinic Ole and its Sister Ann Dental Clinic. Maria Criscione Stel, development director at Clinic Ole, said her organization is “honored to be counted among ANV’s longtime beneficiaries. As we strive to make medical and dental services accessible to all Napa County residents, we will use the proceeds from this year’s (auction) to help cover the cost of providing 62,000 patient visits at our six clinic sites,” she said.
About $84,000 went to St. Helena Hospital Foundation and Queen of the Valley Medical Center Foundation in the name of the late Robert Mondavi.
“The Napa Valley Vintners, through Auction Napa Valley, have played a key role in keeping St. Helena Hospital state of the art,” said Elaine John, President and CEO of the St. Helena Hospital Foundation. “Every major piece of high-tech diagnostic equipment at our facility has benefited by the support of an ANV grant.”
This year’s grant, she added, “will help us acquire a new Varian linear accelerator with image-guided radiation therapy, technology required for St. Helena Hospital to become a comprehensive, integrated cancer center and to better serve our community.”
About $2.4 million went to youth education, with grants benefiting Children’s Health Initiative, aimed at providing access to insurance for Napa County children; Napa Valley Unified School District’s Student Centered 21st Century Initiative, an expansion of the New Technology High School model throughout the district; and On the Move, which works to eliminate the cultural disparity in the classroom by developing youth leadership.
“I think that we are extremely fortunate here in our valley that we have such an engaged community,” said Napa Valley Vintners Executive Director Linda Reiff. “There aren’t many places like it.:”
Holly Finkelstein, local vintner and member of the grants review committee, said, “There is so much generosity, and everyone comes together around the Wine Auction.”
The success of the event, she said, highlights the unique relationship between Napaâ€™s wine industry and the rest of the community.
â€œThe wine industry recognizes that they couldnâ€™t be what they are without the support of the community,â€ Finkelstein said. â€œA really good relationship exists, and one really couldnâ€™t exist without the other.â€
Stacey Bressler, co-owner of Bressler Vineyards and member of the board of two organizations that received grants, said Napa is a place â€œthat understands the importance of supporting the community.â€
Events like Auction Napa Valley, she said, show that â€œthe vintners understand that we are stewards of the land and responsible to the people of the valley.â€