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Monday, January 21 , 2019, 11:05 am | Fair 58º


Santa Barbara’s Vintners’ Foundation Raises Over $1 Million for Direct Relief

The Bachelor’s Chris Harrison emcees biennial Santa Barbara Wine Auction at Bacara Resort & Spa

Direct Relief board members Dorothy Gardner, center left, and Siri Marshall and their husbands, John Gardner, left, and Bob Marshall at the 2016 Santa Barbara Wine Auction at Bacara Resort & Spa. Click to view larger
Direct Relief board members Dorothy Gardner, center left, and Siri Marshall and their husbands, John Gardner, left, and Bob Marshall at the 2016 Santa Barbara Wine Auction at Bacara Resort & Spa. (Gail Arnold / Noozhawk photo)

[Click here for a related Noozhawk photo gallery.]

Bacara Resort & Spa in Goleta was overflowing with Santa Barbara County winemakers, winery owners and other supporters of Direct Relief during the recent Ninth Santa Barbara Wine Auction, a biennial event put on by the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Foundation.

With more than 500 people in attendance, the event raised more than $1 million for Direct Relief. The Goleta-based nonprofit organization mobilizes and provides essential medical resources for people affected by poverty or emergency situations. It operates in 76 countries and in all 50 states.

The origin of the event, as noted by Andrew Firestone, principal at StonePark Capital, was “due to a collection of incredibly talented and passionate winemakers who had a vision for helping out one of the most important organizations here in our community, Direct Relief.”

“There are legends in here — Mr. Ostini (Frank), Mr. Clendenen (Jim), Mr. Doré (Dick) — they had an idea of doing something much more important than just making wine,” he said. “Changing their community for the better.”

Chris Harrison, best known as the host of The Bachelor, The Bachelorette and the past four Miss America Pageants, served as the evening’s emcee.

He noted how, years ago, he had heard about the Santa Barbara Wine Auction, “this epic event,” then had the honor of hosting it last time, and said he “will never miss it again ... until I get disinvited.” Judging from the crowd’s response throughout the evening, that “disinvite” is quite unlikely.

Harrison noted how he personally toured Direct Relief’s facilities and saw the impact it has had. He expressed heartfelt admiration for the work of the organization.

His enthusiasm and sense of gratitude toward Direct Relief seemed to be shared by everyone in attendance.

Actress Jane Lynch of Glee fame was back again this year, too. When I asked her during the cocktail hour what keeps her coming back, she expressed her strong support for Direct Relief, noting how they “really help people in crisis. It is a small organization but with a big impact.”

During the extended cocktail hour, guests mingled while sipping on Alma Rosa Winery Blanc de Blancs sparking wine and nibbling on escargot-stuffed mini croissants. They sampled a Verdad Tempranillo and checked out the indulgent silent auction offerings.

As guests sauntered into the Grand Ballroom for dinner, Santa Barbara-based Panzumo performed lively West African drum music while table hosts introduced themselves to their guests.

Each table was hosted by a winemaker or winery/vineyard owner who shared wines that he or she specially selected to be paired with each course. More than 40 wineries were represented.

Guests were far from limited to sampling their table host’s wine, however. Generous winemakers and winery owners strolled the ballroom delighting guests with tastes of rare library lines.

A very special treat was having Wes Hagen, currently the winemaker at J. Wilkes, share a 1979 Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir, a mere three vintages from the historic 1976 Sanford & Benedict Pinot that put Santa Barbara County on the map for this varietal.

Nor were guests covering their glasses when Gray Hartley, who with Frank Ostini, are the winemakers at Hitching Post Winery, came around offering tastes from a 1995 magnum of Pinot Noir.

The generously flowing wine was accompanied by a gourmet, three-course meal prepared by celebrity chef Michael Mina. The founder of San Francisco’s famed Aqua Restaurant, he has since opened 27 destination restaurants.

The meal began with pastrami cured salmon tartare, followed by braised Wagyu short rib with morel mushrooms, faro and spring onion agro dolce. It concluded with vanilla and Luxardo cherry panna cotta.

Thomas Tighe, president and CEO of Direct Relief, personally thanked the Vintners’ Foundation for its tremendous support over the years, which now totals more than $4 million.

He expressed gratitude for the foundation’s support and encouragement in launching Direct Relief’s USA Program, which is now the country’s largest charitable medicines program.

Tighe also thanked the evening’s largest sponsor, Unilever, for its generous support. A short video and presentation by Ricardo Pimenta, global vice president for Vaseline Brands, explained Unilever’s Vaseline Healing Project, through which more than 1 million units of Vaseline jelly have been distributed to people affected by poverty or emergencies around the world.

Louisa and Bob Lindquist received the Vintner of the Year Award. Bob, who founded Qupé in 1982, was a pioneer in the production of Californian syrah and other Rhone varietals and remains one of Santa Barbara County’s most respected vintners.

His wines, especially the syrahs, have been highly acclaimed for years. He was one of the original Rhone Rangers, helped found the Santa Barbara Vintners’ Association in 1983, and was the association’s first president.

Louisa, Bob’s wife, is the founder and winemaker at Verdad Wine Cellars, which produce Spanish varietal wines from organic and biodynamic grapes grown in cool climate, coastal vineyards.

Thekla and Richard Sanford and Michael Benedict received the Pioneer Award.

Benedict and Richard Sanford, who planted Pinot Noir in the Sanford & Benedict Vineyard  back in 1971, are regarded as the duo who established Santa Barbara — in particular Santa Rita Hills — as a prime location for Pinot Noir cultivation.

In 1981, Sanford and his wife, Thekla, went on to found Sanford Winery, which produces world-renowned Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays and in 2005, the Sanfords founded Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards.

The Sanfords were the first certified organic winegrowers in the county. In 2012, Richard was inducted into the Vintners Hall of Fame, the first ever Central Coast inductee.

Benedict operated Sanford & Benedict Vineyard from 1970 until 1990, selling off most of the production and making a small amount of wine during this period. Since then, he has dedicated himself to his botanical research and working with nonprofit organizations.

In accepting the award, Richard Sanford paid special tribute to “the tireless dedication of the vineyard workers.” He humbly said he was honored to introduce Martin Hernandez, his Alma Rosa vineyard manager who has been with him for 37 years. The two shared the stage during extended applause and cheers from the guests.

The live auction, conducted by DawnMarie Kotsonis, included decadent experiences, such as a 14-day South African Adventure that brought in $30,000 from each of two bidders.

Another popular item was the opportunity to blend one’s own barrel of wine with Qupé and with Beckmen Vineyards, billed as “winemaking with all of the pleasure, none of the pain.” That draw garnered $20,000 from each of two bidders.

In 2015, Direct Relief provided $610 million (wholesale) in medical aid. It was the largest provider of assistance after the 2010 Haiti earthquake, Hurricane Sandy in 2012 and the 2015 Nepal earthquakes.

In the United States, Direct Relief works with more than 1,000 health clinics to assist in emergencies and on an ongoing basis, providing free medications for people in need.

It holds the No. 1 spot on Charity Navigator’s list of the “10 Best Charities Everyone’s Heard Of,” and was one of Fast Company’s Top 10 Most Innovative Nonprofits for 2015.

The Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Foundation is the charitable arm of the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Association. Members of the association include growers, vineyard managers, business associations and wineries. Proceeds from its events benefit many local charitable organizations and provide scholarships to local students.

The premier sponsor of the event was Unilever - Vaseline. Platinum sponsors were BD, Madelyn and Gregg Foster, and Paul Mitchell.

Gold Sponsors were Abbott, AbbVie, Alma Rosa Winery & Vineyards, Bacara Resort & Spa, Bobbie and Gerry Rubin and Montecito Bank& Trust.

Click here for more information about Direct Relief. Click here to make an online donation.

Click here for more information about the Santa Barbara County Vintners’ Foundation.

Noozhawk contributing writer Gail Arnold can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkSociety, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Become a fan of Noozhawk on Facebook.

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