After several years of growth for the highest-earning charity wine auctions in the United States, revenues decreased in 2016, with live-auction bids reaching $33 million, compared with $36.9 million in 2015.
Naples Winter Wine Festival held its No. 1 ranking, raising nearly $10.5 million in live-auction bids. "It's a team effort. We try to be innovative not only in our auction lots but also in the vintners we bring in," said co-chair Sandi Moran. Top lots included a 2016 Rolls-Royce, which sold for $750,000, and an exclusive experience at the BottleRock music festival in Napa, at $720,000.
Runner-up Auction Napa Valley totaled $9.8 million, with top lots including a wine and safari experience in South Africa that brought in just over $1 million, and three Realm salmanazars ($210,000).
"There is nothing like seeing these lots sold, where maybe it goes from $20,000 to $100,000 in seconds," said ANV marketing vice president Stacey Dolan Capitani.
The Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction, which earlier this year severed ties with longtime partner Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance, raises money to improve local third graders' reading skills. In 2016, the auction offered a dinner provided by Wine Spectator Award of Excellence-winning John Ash & Co. at Kosta Browne Wines, which sold for $200,000.
Joel Cowley, president of Rodeo Uncorked!, attributed the decline in that auction's earnings to the local Houston economy. "We were down 26 percent on auction night," he said. "But when you look at the fair market value of what we are selling, it's still pretty phenomenal."
However, several auctions saw strengthened revenues, including Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation, which reached the top three for the first time, raising $2.4 million in live-auction bids. President John Russell commended the community's generosity. "If we build a house for Habitat for Humanity, we know the family moving into it, we meet the parents of the autistic children [through our work with Emerald Coast Autism Center], we hear their stories," said Russell.
At the Emeril Lagasse Foundation's Carnivale du Vin in New Orleans, focused on mentoring youth in the culinary arts, children take an active part in the auction itself, including helping to prepare a multicourse meal for the event. "Not only are we introducing our donors to the people that are benefiting, but also teaching the kids along the way," said foundation president Brian Kish.
To celebrate Carnivale du Vin's 12th anniversary, baseball legend Rusty Staub donated a 54-bottle collection of grands and premiers crus Burgundies. It was the night's top wine-only lot, selling for $55,000. "Every year, Rusty Staub puts together a great Burgundy package. He and Emeril have such great respect for one another," Kish said.
Despite being edged out of the Top 10, the Detroit International Wine Auction, which funds scholarships at the local College for Creative Studies, raised $1.1 million in live bids.
It is worth noting that younger generations are beginning to have a role in events long supported by their elders. This year, Auction Napa Valley's honorary chair was Agustin Huneeus, whose father held the title over 20 years ago.
"You see second-, third-, even fourth-generation vintners hosting our guests and putting these amazing wines up for auction," said Patsy McGaughy, director of communications. "Our vintners are [bringing] their kids to see this tradition of philanthropy, so that's been a fun evolution."
Amid the spirit of celebration and generosity, the auctions at times also became emotional. At the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction, vintner Gina Gallo requested a moment of silence in honor of Margrit Mondavi, who died in September. As executive director Maureen Cottingham said, "It truly is about the vintners and growers always looking forward, always looking to the future, but also looking into the past and honoring those who have come before us."