Deep Pockets Food & Wine Fundraisers

Photo Courtesy of Auction Napa Valley
With results from the 31st Annual Auction Napa Valley blazing across the Twitter-verse and the countdown clock on to Share our Strength’s Taste of the Nation in L.A., fancy food and wine fundraisers are at the top of our event radar. But one question we’ve always had about these events— and we’re probably not alone — is, "What exactly is the financial bottom line?"

After the celebs have posed for the social column photos, the caviar has been devoured, and the auctioneer has brought the gavel down on the last six-figure lot, how much benefit do the charities in question actually see? Answer: Sometimes, a stunning amount.

Annual big-ticket food and wine fundraisers are not only among the hottest tickets on a jet-set social calendar, but also a crucial fundraising channel for all sorts of charities, from community-centric children’s foundations to international philanthropic organizations. Here, we give notable numbers and background details on eight of the biggest and best.

Taste of the Nation

Background: Though the amount raised is just a fraction of the major auctions, Taste of the Nation is part of a much bigger organization, and this event generates the group substantial buzz amongst Angelenos. In general, events not related to entertainment struggle to find traction in L.A., but this one has a sizeable following.

There is an auction, but the main event is a walkaround tasting event featuring nearly 50 Los Angeles-area restaurants. The $100 ticket price ($125 at the door) is hefty enough to ensure a fairly well-heeled crowd, but not so expensive that only corporate accounts and Weinsteins can afford it. It’s a big, friendly, food-inspired day party where craft brewers mingle with television execs, restaurateurs and Hollywood Hills types, all for a good cause.

Who attends: This year, expect Mary Sue Milliken and Michael Voltaggio among the celeb chef contingent, and comedians Randy Sklar and Kathy Griffin among celebs showing up just for the party.

Notable numbers: Although last year’s L.A. event grossed just $230,000, TOTN events in all have raised more than $75 million.

Date: June 12, 2011

L’Ete Du Vin

Nashville’s signature wine charity event goes up against Auction Napa Valley for the title of "America’s Oldest Charity Wine Auction." Bold indeed, especially considering that it’s nowhere near wine country. However, though Nashville is not a wine industry town, it is a diverse city with a surprising number of wine collectors, business people and deep pockets.

Whether stepping up to repair damages from the 2010 flood or supporting local medical organizations on an ongoing basis, residents show solidarity for community and causes. And this charity’s cause — to support "organizations whose purpose is directly related to the treatment, patient care and eradication of cancer" — is among the noblest of all.

Who attends: Celebrity guests like Kix Brooks and Reba McEntire brush shoulders with doctors, scientists, local restaurateurs, and the owners of Krug Champagne and Chateaux Margaux.

Notable numbers: More than $16 million has been raised in 32 years. This year, the heavy-hitting connoisseurs will be bidding on a Chateauneuf-du-Pape tasting featuring 41 of the best wines going back to the early 1970s.

Dates: July 16, 2011

Sun Valley Food & Wine Festival

Inspired by Auction Napa Valley three decades ago, the philanthropy-minded people in Sun Valley wondered if they could start a similar fundraiser in their own town. And then they did. Celebrating its 30th anniversary in 2011, Sun Valley has become an institution in its own right. People in the wine business name it among the top 10 wine charity events nationwide, and many supporters/attendees have been involved since inception.

This includes certain key California winemakers including Shafer and Silver Oak. The program includes three days of wine symposiums, tastings and vintner dinners, plus the auction where most of the funds are raised, and a catered picnic on the golf course that draws the largest crowd.

Who attends: Senator John Kerry and his wife Teresa Heinz host one of the vintner dinners each year, while celeb chefs Jonathan Waxman, Rick Moonen and Carmen Gonzales are this year’s chef headliners.

Notable numbers: It raises approximately $1 million per year, or 50-60 percent of the annual budget for the art and education programs at Sun Valley Center for the Arts.

Dates: July 21-23, 2011

Carnivale du Vin

Since 2005, this annual fundraiser for the Emeril Lagasse Foundation has brought in more than $12 million to benefit underprivileged youth. It takes place in Emeril’s beloved New Orleans, and appropriately for the city, has a more lively style than other wine auction. Last year’s headliner was Kool & the Gang and participating food and wine luminaries are grouped under the moniker "the Krewe du Vin" (a Mardi Gras homage).

Who attends: He’s a bona fide New Orleans legend, so you know Emeril’s krewe is bound to be pretty celeb-heavy — and this event doesn’t disappoint. Norman van Aken, Mario Batali and Jim Clendenden of Au Bon Climat (in the role of "Honorary Bacchus" were among the celeb participants last year.

Notable numbers: $12 million total funds have been raised since 2005.

Dates: November 12, 2011

Flavor Napa Valley

Among all of Napa’s notable food and wine events, it’s difficult for a newcomer to grab attention, but the inaugural Flavor Napa Valley looks like a winner straight out of the gate. Created as a way for the wine and food stars of Napa (either born in the county or raised to fame in Napa kitchens) to support the culinary stars of the next generation; it brings together culinary superstars from Thomas Keller to Masaharu Morimoto.

Proceeds from all ticket sales are going to the Culinary Institute of America scholarship fund. The big event is Appellation Trail. Instead of a traditional tasting tent, the wines of Napa Valley will be broken up into sub-appellations and all 15 (including Calistoga) will be represented.

Who attends: Locals, chefs, industry insiders, and people in the know. If you like to be "first" and you’re near the West Coast, this is one to check out.

Notable numbers: TBD

Dates: November 17-20, 2011. Tickets go on sale June 20.

Naples Winter Wine Festival

One of the most lucrative fundraisers in the country, Naples Winter Wine Festival, raises millions of dollars each year for the Naples Children & Education Foundation — mostly under the auction tent. Luxury Institute ranks it as one of the "top 10 arts and entertainment events for wealthy Americans."

In spite of that, the three-day festival starts off on Friday afternoon with a unique and very casual Meet the Kids Day, which event organizers say might be the most popular event of the weekend. Donors can meet not only with the children benefiting from their contributions, but also with the heads of local charities that receive the funds. Following that is an evening of intimate vintner dinners hosted in the homes of foundation trustees. The auction takes place Saturday.

Who attends: Emeril Lagasse has been multiple times. Next year’s honored vintner will be Prince Robert of Luxembourg. Jane Seymour has been a featured artist, and Kyle MacLachlan has been a featured vintner (his side project is the Washington boutique winery Pursued by Bear).

Notable numbers: Last year’s festival raised $12 million. In total, $94.5 million has been raised since 2001. The highest bid ever was $2 million for a Rolls-Royce Drophead Coupe in 2007.

Next happening: January 27-29, 2012

Kentucky Bluegrass Wine Auction

Right when the world’s attention starts to focus on Louisville — that would be two days before Kentucky Derby Day — many Kentucky stable owners and bluegrass country elite slip away from Churchill Downs and over to a private location in Lexington for the biggest charity event of the year. Benefiting the Lexington Cancer Foundation, it includes a wine trade event, a series of private dinners, and a live auction. Now in its sixth year, KBWA has raised more than half a million dollars a year consistently since its inception.

Who attends: Debutantes, local philanthropists and horse people.

Notable numbers: $582,758 has been raised in 2011.

Next happening: TBD 2012

Auction Napa Valley

Auction Napa Valley wrapped its silent auction this past Sunday, June 5, after the live event Saturday. The 31st annual didn’t break year-to-year records, but smashed the $100 million barrier for the overall amount raised since inception. In spite of unseasonable rain, ANV saw typical enthusiasm from Napa luminaries like Michael Chiarello, who not only did the post-auction barbecue and co-sponsored the biggest lot, but found time to Tweet before, during and after.

Rain couldn’t even spoil the picnic lunch. Due to the organizers’ quick problem-solving, attendees enjoyed Chef Cindy Pawlcyn’s luncheon and Chiarello’s barbecue under hastily erected tents and what the local Napa Valley Register referred to as an "impromptu barn."

Who attends: Napa winemakers and restaurateurs en masse, joined by the occasional AA-list celebrity. Past attendees include Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno (as auctioneer). This year, SF mayor (and Plumpjack owner) Gavin Newsom was perhaps the biggest name.

Notable numbers: More than $7.3 million was raised this year, more than $100 million over 31 years, all for Napa county charities. The lots ranged from cellar-worthy to over-the-top. One of the highlights was the "Auteur," donated by Blackbird Vineyards and CHOPARD, which included a three year vertical collection of Blackbird Illustration proprietary red wine, a trip for two to Cannes for the Film Festival, a CHOPARD watch, and a separate overnight stay for three couples at Bardessono in Napa, with a private gallery tour of Ma(i)sonry. It went for $120,000.

Lena Katz

Lena Katz is the author of the Travel Temptations series (SIP, SUN, SNOW), published by Globe Pequot Press in 2009. Lena is also a travel expert for Celebrations/1800FLOWERS and WEtv (online and on-air). She contributes to the South China Morning Post and ABC News online. Lena is a former Orbitz Travel blogger and former columnist for the LA Times. She's been published in Brides Magazine, Robb Rep...(Read More)

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