When the last gavel fell at the 2019 Destin Charity Wine Auction, held April 26-27 in Miramar Beach, Fla., organizers were disappointed to discover they had fallen $400,000 short of their $3 million goal. That disappointment turned to elation two days later, when a surprise $1 million donation by local philanthropist and United Networks of America chairman Ryan Jumonville brought the event's total raised to $3.6 million for local children's charities, far exceeding last's year's $2.8 million.
"In a small community like this, that kind of level of generosity is pretty stunning," event president John Russell told Wine Spectator. "[Jumonville]'s got four young children of his own and really understands the needs of our community."
Sixteen charities were selected as beneficiaries of this year's event. Each is located in the Florida Panhandle area and each focuses on a different child-centered issue such as homelessness, hunger or autism. "We also really evaluate them on, among other things, how well they help each other," said Russell. The event donated $3 million directly to the selected organizations; the remaining $600,000 was placed in the auction's reserve fund, saved for potential local emergencies. Despite offering fewer lots than in previous years, Saturday's live auction component brought in more than $2.2 million of the total.
To kick off the weekend, many of the selected beneficiary organizations were in the spotlight at 11 patron dinners on Friday night. While charity presentations were made, attendees enjoyed vintner-donated wines and food crafted from chefs at restaurants including Wine Spectator Best of Award Excellence winner Canoe in Atlanta and nearby Award of Excellence winners Bijoux and Seagar's Prime Steaks and Seafood. "The chefs do great food, and the people at the dinners get a real close connection and understanding of what that charity is about," said Russell.
In a change from past events, Saturday's auction placed similar-themed experiences into combined lots, such as a six-person, five-night stay in Napa Valley with visits to both Barnett Vineyard and Spottswoode Estate as well as dinner with the winemakers and owners. "Our top bidders would say, 'Look, if we go out, we want to go out to wine country for a while,' so we combined some of them," said Russell. "We also really focused on getting through the auction in a shorter time so people are still with us."
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Indeed attendees remained invested throughout live-auction bidding, which was large in part, Russell notes, to auction lots that included trips to "more exotic locales," including a four-person, seven-day wine expedition to Mendoza, Argentina, offering private dinners and tastings at the region's top wineries with Revana Family Vineyards' Dr. Madaiah Revana, the auction's honored vintner. The lot sold for $35,000. Another top wine lot, which sold for $55,000, included 50 signed magnums from the Destin Charity Wine Auction Foundation's past and present honored vintners.
The auction's paddle-raise component, which supports the substance-abuse recovery program Pathways for Change, helps to break up the live bidding and often provides an emotional look at what the auction supports, Russell says. In less than 10 minutes, $166,500 was raised after a mother took the stage to share her son's battle with opioid addiction while her son, now in recovery, stood on stage with his baby and wife.
"The number of paddles in the air [was] just amazing," said Russell. "That always drives home what we're doing and why we do it. We try never to get too far away from our mission."