America’s top charity wine auctions found success in 2018 with winemaker dinners featuring renowned chefs and live entertainment. And many also succeeded by putting the spotlight on the worthy causes they were aiming to help, from children’s charities to health and education causes to art and cultural institutions. After an increasing focus on additional events around the live auction in recent years, such as online bidding and silent auctions, one of the biggest shared themes of 2018's auctions was the success of the main live events: 13 auctions broke the $1 million mark in live-bid totals—an increase from 2017's 11—putting them on Wine Spectator’s annual list of top charity wine events of the year.
These 13 highest-earning charity wine auctions (based on their live bid totals only) raised a combined $42.7 million in live bids, passing 2017's $41 million. The 2018 list included familiar names like the Naples Winter Wine Festival, Auction Napa Valley and Auction of Washington Wines, along with newcomers like Festival Napa Valley.
Beyond breaking the $1 million mark for live bids, the Auction of Washington Wines, Destin Charity Auction, Sonoma County Wine Auction, Festival Napa Valley, Lyric Opera of Chicago Wine Auction and Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Auction and Dinner all set their highest totals ever.
"We find that experiences around wine bring us the most revenue and also cement the relationships between winemakers and the winners," Shelley Tomberg, former Auction of Washington Wines executive director, told Wine Spectator, pointing to lots like the event's highest-selling in its 31-year history: a three-couple trip to visit some of Bordeaux's best wineries, including châteaus Haut-Brion and Lafite Rothschild, that sold for $160,000. The lot was donated by DeLille Cellars.
Want to get the latest news on collectible wines and the auction market? Sign up for Wine Spectator's free Collecting e-mail newsletter and get a new top-rated wine review, collecting Q&As and more, delivered straight to your inbox every other week!
Wine-focused lots were also central to the success of other high earners, like the Naples Winter Wine Festival (NWWF), which retained its title as the nation's top charity wine auction and raised more than $12.8 million in live-auction bids and $15.3 million in total. A standout wine lot was a 10-day trip to South Africa for two couples alongside Shari and Garen Staglin of Staglin Family Vineyard that sold for $520,000. The lot included 12 bottles of Staglin Family Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon ranging from 2009 to 2014.
Auction coordinators agreed that it's the cause that matters most. For NWWF, it was for children's mental health, and auction-goers got to meet some of the supported kids. "Meet the Kids Day is always a highlight of the weekend," said Naples Children & Education Foundation CEO Maria Jimenez-Lara. "It brings our community together and showcases the positive impact the foundation and our generous bidders have made in lives of Collier County’s at-risk, underprivileged children."
Children were also front and center at Emeril Lagasse's Carnivale du Vin, Southwest Florida Food & Wine Fest, Auction of Washington Wines and Classic Wines Auction. At Carnivale du Vin, culinary arts high school students from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) designed the event's five-course wine pairings menu and a 10-year-old winemaker presented his own barrel of Grenache he made at his family’s Limerick Lane Winery. At the Southwest Florida Food & Wine Fest, child artists Matthew Singleton, a 5-year-old leukemia patient, and his 6-year-old brother, Steven, took the stage during the auction to present their artwork that raised $170,000 for Golisano Children’s Hospital of Southwest Florida.
Many of the top auctions continued to focus on California wildfire relief, like the Destin Charity Auction, Sonoma County Wine Auction and Auction Napa Valley. Others, like High Museum of Atlanta, Lyric Opera of Chicago, Festival Napa Valley and Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Auction and Dinner, focused on the cultural arts.
WineaPawlooza, in a category of its own, focused on benefiting animals. "We are grateful to our spectacular Napa Valley wine community, wine enthusiasts and collectors from around the country who come together to support [Jameson Animal Rescue Ranch]'s mission of animal advocacy," said cofounder and CEO Monica Stevens.
Despite not breaking the $1 million mark in live-auction bids, 2018 was also a good year for other auctions like Cotes du Coeur, which raised almost $4.8 million and Toast to Your Health Fine Wine Auction, which raised just under $3 million. Heart's Delight, Nashville Wine Auction's l’Eté du Vin, An Evening with California Winemasters and ShuttleCork all broke the $1 million mark in their totals raised.
2018 was an inaugural year for Inspire Napa Valley (INV)—a new charity wine auction aimed at raising money for the Alzheimer’s Association. The event raised nearly $1.1 million.
"We are already planning on new ways to make INV 2019 even better while still maintaining the size of the event and, of course, the quality of wine and the overall experience," said Kerrin Laz, founder of Inspire Napa Valley and the K. Laz Wine Collection.