Natasha Hall was processing catastrophe insurance claims when she learned about the Roots Fund. In search of a new path, she reached out to the nonprofit organization, which is dedicated to helping minorities enter the wine industry, and now she works as an Atlanta-based wine writer. Hall was one of many Roots Fund scholars who attended last night's charity auction gala at the Chelsea Piers Lighthouse in New York, to help raise money for the organization's initiatives. A thrilling night of food, wine and bids raised more than $200,000. An online auction raised an additional $215,000, for a total of $415,000 for the charity.
"The Roots Fund was instrumental in helping me find a pathway to the industry by providing support, mentorship and opportunity," Hall told Wine Spectator. Roots provided Hall with educational scholarships, a sponsored wine trip to Paso Robles and a writing mentor named Vanessa Vin, who is also a fellow Roots Fund scholar. "Each of us are really engaged in paying [opportunity] forward."
The auction event was held in partnership with Wine Spectator and Zachys. In 2020, the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation donated $100,000 to the fund to provide scholarships within the group’s Rooted in Education and Stay Rooted in Education programs; the former focuses on wine certification courses, while the latter provides college tuition support for winemakers and others in the wine business.
Following a reception, the April 27 gala dinner and auction kicked off with a musical performance by Grammy-nominated R&B singer and songwriter Kenyon Dixon. Jermaine Stone, owner of Cru Luv Wine and host of the Wine & Hip Hop podcast, Roots Fund co-founder Ikimi Dubose-Woodson and auction veteran Fritz Hatton played the role of auctioneers, building excitement for the night’s 11 auction lots.
"Getting into the wine industry can be daunting," Stone said. "We need to raise funding for more scholarships to get Roots Fund where they need to be."
The wines being poured throughout the event were provided by collectors, Zachys and Grant Reynolds, co-founder of online retailer Parcelle Wine, and served by sommeliers from around the country who have benefited from the Roots Fund initiatives. Bottles included Giacomo Conterno Barolo Monfortino Riserva, Domaine Leroy Les Beaux Monts, Château Haut-Brion, Gaja Langhe Conteisa, Jay Z's Armand de Brignac Champagne and West Coast producers such as Dominus Estate, Harlan Estate, Heitz and Chosen Family.
While pouring a magnum of 1995 Côte-Rôtie, Darwin Acosta spoke about how Dubose-Woodson and Roots Fund co-founder Carlton McCoy, a Master Sommelier and managing partner of Napa's Lawrence Wine Estates, reached out to Acosta in 2020 and offered a wine production job in Napa Valley. The move from New York? Covered.
"I would not have moved on my own because it was too expensive," Acosta said. "Ikimi and Carlton covered my moving expenses and gave me my first jobs in the wine industry with Dalla Valle, Heitz and Burgess Cellars." Acosta is now hoping to be one of the 10 scholars to join the Roots Fund South Africa trip this summer.
The live auction included wine and experiential lots. The highest-selling lot was a 10-person Lobos Tequila dinner with LeBron James' business partner Maverick Carter, actor Diego Osorio and McCoy (sold twice at $20,000). One couple scored a trip to St.-Tropez, where they'll visit Donae Burston's La Fête Rosé and Chateau St.-Maur. Burston added a private helicopter tour as well, which attracted a final bid of $23,000. A four-person dinner at Wine Spectator Grand Award winner the French Laundry sold for $20,000, and a lot of nine bottles of super Tuscan 2016 Ornellaia sold for $14,000.
When Dubose-Woodson and McCoy started the Roots Fund with sommelier Tahiirah Habibi in 2020, they just wanted to find enough money to offer one scholarship. Now, they have 122 active scholarships for minorities interested in the wine business, with more in the works. "Access is a given, but support is what we provide," Dubose-Woodson said. "We give the tools people need to not only get the role, but sustain the role, and that creates long-term success."
Another 102 auction lots are still open for bidding online.
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