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Charity Auction Honors Diamond Creek Founder for Battle With Parkinson's Disease

James Laube
Posted: April 30, 2001

Napa Valley vintner Al Brounstein has long been recognized for his age-worthy Diamond Creek Cabernets, but outside the wine world, he's admired for something else: his courageous 18-year battle with Parkinson's disease.

On Sat., April 28, the Parkinson's Institute honored Brounstein, 81, at a dinner and charity wine auction sponsored by Wine Spectator. The "Diamonds in the Rough" auction raised an estimated $700,000 to benefit research for the neurological disease. More than 330 wine lovers attended the event at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, in Napa Valley.

With saxophonist Kenny G providing the music and comedian Robin Williams a few of the laughs, auctioneer Ursula Hermancinski encouraged bidders to spend freely on 12 live auction lots, raising $487,000. A silent auction, featuring more than a dozen wines, brought in another $116,000.

The top bids of $80,000 each went for two separate lots: a dinner for eight at Diamond Creek prepared by famed Chicago chef Charlie Trotter. Along with some gems from Brounstein's cellar, the dinner will feature three wines from 1900 -- châteaus Lafite Rothschild, Margaux and d'Yquem -- and a collection of wines from 1972 to 1999, commemorating Brounstein's career.

Among the other highlights of the live auction, a collection of 15 vintages of Heitz Martha's Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon (a vertical from 1973 to 1986, and a 1991 vintage) sold for $60,000. A re-creation of the 1976 Paris Tasting (in which French wine experts ranked two Napa Valley wines above top Bordeaux and Burgundies) fetched $65,000. Marvin R. Shanken, editor and publisher of Wine Spectator, and his wife, Hazel, donated a mixed case of 1974 and 1978 Napa Valley Cabernets, six boxes of rare cigars, a Flor de Alba Elie Bleu Humidor, three signed commemorative magazines, and a travel package for two to the New York Wine Experience; the entire package brought in $47,000. A two-day stay at Château Pichon-Longueville-Lalande in Bordeaux sold for $32,000. And a 9-liter bottle of 1991 Diamond Creek Lake Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon, donated by Brounstein and his wife, Boots, went for $35,000.

Topping the silent auction, a 1.5-liter bottle of 1997 Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $14,000.

Brounstein's cousin, Kenny G, performed at the dinner, and comedian Williams enlivened the bidding for the final live lot with his zany theatrics, prancing and parading through the crowd like a jester. Their performances added to a star-studded lineup of chefs from as far away as London and Australia, headed by Trotter and Thomas Keller of the French Laundry in Napa Valley, who prepared the six-course meal.

Shanken, chairman of the event, and others praised Brounstein for his courage, determination and optimistic outlook on life, despite struggling with Parkinson's. Shanken also thanked Brounstein for his many contributions to the wine industry.

Despite the debilitating effects of the disease, Brounstein has always maintained a good sense of humor and positive outlook. "I have no intention of slowing down," said Brounstein, who founded Diamond Creek in 1972 and built it into one of California's elite names in wine. "I've got enough projects to keep me going another 18 years. Then maybe I'll slow down."

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Check our recent ratings of Diamond Creek wines.

Read more about Al Brounstein and Diamond Creek:

  • June 15, 1998
    Diamonds Are Forever
    Even the oldest vintages are gems in a vertical tasting of Diamond Creek Cabernet
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