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Longtime Partner Pulls Out of California's Wine Classic Auction

Event has seen a significant decline in funds raised, but will continue with new beneficiaries and new locations.

Tim Fish, Ryan Isaac
Posted: February 13, 2004

One of Central California's top charity wine auctions has lost its long-standing partner. Public radio station KCBX ended its 19-year relationship with the Central Coast Wine Classic, claiming the 2003 event fell far short of its fund-raising needs.

Archie McLaren, founder and executive director of the benefit, said he is disappointed that KCBX has pulled out but the Wine Classic will continue. McLaren said the multiday event -- which also includes educational seminars, wine tastings and meals -- was not the only charity wine auction that has struggled amid tight economic conditions.

"There were really, really some difficult times out there," he said. "KCBX needs a source of funds that is more stable, and the board and staff weren't comfortable taking a chance on it."

KCBX officials were not available for comment. But McLaren said the radio station netted about $35,000 from the event last July, down from a high of nearly $400,000 in previous years.

That's a dramatic decline for an auction that has been one of California's most successful and is in an elite group in terms of its longevity. In Wine Spectator's listing of top 10 charity auctions in 2000, the KCBX Central Coast Wine Classic placed fifth, recording $716,500 in bids from the live and silent auctions. The Wine Classic is entering its 20th year; only six auctions that reported 2003 bids to Wine Spectator have been in existence longer.

According to McLaren, just about everything that could have gone wrong in 2003 did. Cash sponsorship revenues were down, key lots were not donated (including a car and a trip to the Kentucky Derby), and the guests were not in the giving mood. "People sat on their paddles," he said. A bottle of Harlan Estate sold for half of what it did the year before, McLaren said.

"It was a very difficult decision for KCBX to decide not to be the beneficiary from this point on," said McLaren, who also leads the San Luis Obispo Vintners & Growers Association. As part of its sponsorship, the station provided many of the event's volunteers, he added. "They felt they had to reallocate their human resources, and that makes sense to me."

KCBX has been very helpful with the transition, McLaren said. "They've done everything imaginable to help us carry on the event without any blips."

This year's event, which will take place from July 15 to 18, will shift from the Wine Classic's established home at the Avila Beach Resort to various locations, in an effort to reduce overhead. The event will feature five new beneficiaries: Foundation for the San Luis Obispo Performing Arts Center; Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara; AIDS Support Network of San Luis Obispo; San Luis Obispo Special Olympics; and the Rhythmic Arts Project of Ventura and Santa Barbara. For more information about the upcoming event, call (805) 781-3026.

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Read more about the charity wine auction market:

  • March 31, 2003
    2002 Charity Auction Sales Pace Slows
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