Last year, the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) trade association announced the discontinuation of Auction Napa Valley, one of the nation's premier charity wine auctions. Today NVV announced that the nonprofit association’s fundraising efforts will become a year-round program, called Collective Napa Valley, with a series of seasonal, multifaceted events both in and out of Napa.
“By moving to this more fluid structure, we will be able to more easily adapt and evolve,” explained Linda Reiff, president and CEO of NVV. “We will be able to be a lot more nimble with what we're doing. We will have a lot more fun, quite frankly, and not be tied to one tradition of one event on one weekend.”
Auction Napa Valley (née Napa Valley Wine Auction) was founded in 1981 by a group of vintners, including Robert and Margrit Mondavi. For nearly 40 years, the anticipated events of the fundraising weekend culminated in a live auction at Meadowood Resort, where rare lots of high-priced wines, fantasy vacations, jewelry and tickets to exclusive experiences at the Kentucky Derby and Super Bowl were auctioned off for tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars. Cumulative proceeds from the event topped $200 million and were distributed to dozens of local nonprofits in the areas of community health and children’s education.
The 2020 and 2021 Auction Napa Valley events were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and Meadowood Resort sustained extensive damage caused by the 2020 wine-country wildfires. But Jack Bittner, managing partner at Ovid and chair of NVV’s board of directors, explained that the conversations about changing the auction format started eight or nine years ago.
“There was just a general feeling that we always fell back to one sort of format, this one construct,” said Bittner. “The pause in the last year gave the group a chance to discuss different ideas and concepts. It was really a let’s-throw-out-the-rulebook discussion, where everything was possible.”
Blakesley Chappellet, co-leader of the Auction Napa Valley reimagining committee, said that one of the themes of the conversations about retooling the event was “inclusion.” Auction events were both expensive and typically sold out quickly. There was a years-long waiting list even for local volunteers.
“How do we engage more people, and not be—for lack of a better word—an elitist weekend?” asked Chappellet. “We realized that what we were doing had become intimidating for a lot of people. We wanted to expand our base, and we wanted to be significantly more inclusive of wineries, of wine collectors, of Napa Valley fans, and to create these seasonal campaigns that would allow more people to have great experiences in Napa Valley outside of just that one weekend.”
For now, the NVV plans to keep an anchoring event scheduled for the first weekend of June 2022, called the Napa Valley Futures Auction. The event will continue the tradition of the barrel auction formerly held during Auction Napa Valley. The team insists that despite the changing format, the focus on fundraising remains at the core of their events. “[Auction Napa Valley] has been this extraordinary engine for local philanthropy,” explains Bittner. “Essentially what we’re doing is creating a new engine.”
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