Story By: Daniel Mangin // Photos Courtesy of Napa Valley Vintners
Gathering, Enjoying Wine, and DOING GOOD
Napa Valley Vintners Reinvents Community Fundraising with Innovative Collective Napa Valley
Three decades before the 1976 Judgment of Paris tasting elevated the Napa Valley’s status as a winegrowing region, the seven founding members of the Napa Valley Vintners laid the groundwork for that triumph by establishing an organization based on collaboration and camaraderie. The Paris tasting and the valley’s subsequent evolution as a winemaking and hospitality destination par excellence proved correct the vintners’ intuition that they could achieve more by working together than by going it alone.
Though engaged in serious wine-industry business, the original septet referred to their organization as an “eating and drinking society.” The mingling of work and pleasure supplied the blueprint for later charitable endeavors, most notably Auction Napa Valley, which enjoyed a four-decade run as the valley’s preeminent fundraiser. In 2022, the association, now nearly 550 members strong, unveiled a revised philanthropic vision, Collective Napa Valley, as a way to connect year-round with wine fans who care about the Napa Valley, its people, and the area’s future. The format may be new, but Collective Napa Valley’s guiding principles—“gathering, enjoying wine, and doing good”—hark back to the original embrace of cooperation and fun.
Napa Valley Vintners has long taken a leadership role in caring for the community. Since 1981 it has donated more than $200 million to local nonprofits. In a county with just under 140,000 residents, the reach is as impressive as the dollars amassed: 115,000 people benefit from more than two-dozen programs each year. Auction Napa Valley, which became a model for wine-charity fundraising around the nation, raised the bulk of the vintners’ funding.
Focusing on children’s education, Napa Valley Vintners supports nonprofits whose services include pediatric dental care, special-needs education, family and senior assistance, and more. The signature achievement, OLE Health, was started by a group of vintners and growers to care for the farmworkers in the community. Thanks to $42 million in NVV funds over the years, OLE Health now serves a third of the population—children and adults in the wine industry or not, whether they have insurance or not—in four locations.
NVV is one of the largest local funders of the Community Health Initiative, through which every child in Napa has access to health insurance. The association also supports four Boys & Girls Club locations where after-school and summer programs include leadership development, tutoring, and physical education. Another area of interest is farmworker housing, with money from an assessment vintners impose on themselves used to build, maintain, and operate farmworker housing centers.
NVV has been particularly visible in times of crisis, providing a lead gift of $10 million following the 2014 south Napa earthquake. Stepping up again when the Covid-19 pandemic began, NVV immediately made available $100,000 to ramp up testing efforts, later investing $275,000 in vaccination clinics, where more than 30,000 Napa County residents and employees have been fully vaccinated. Partners included OLE Health, Queen of the Valley, the St. Helena Hospital Foundation, and Lydia Mondavi and CORE (Community Organized Relief Effort).
Beyond the statistics, though, lie compelling stories of specific lives touched and improved through the nonprofit partners that NVV funds:
- A foster child overcoming abuse and abandonment
- A mason with foot sores diagnosed as a diabetic and assisted with diet plans and comfortable work boots
- The parents of an infant with Down syndrome and bone-marrow issues supported emotionally
- An uninsured mother of three receiving fibroid surgery able to care for her children free of medical debt
- A formerly homeless mother with drug problems now enrolled in college
- A preschooler with speech issues getting therapy to keep from falling behind his peers
- A teen with drug problems becoming the first in her family to graduate from high school
- A grandmother parenting her grandkids obtaining custody and other legal advice
In addition to community health and children’s education, NVV also funds scholarships to increase diversity in the wine industry and a program to develop the valley’s next generation of leaders.
With so many individuals and community groups who do good work through NVV grants, the announcement that after four decades, the wildly successful Auction Napa Valley, which last took place in June 2019, was being retired raised concerns about funding continuity. To address them, the association pledged $15 million from 2021 through 2023 during the transition from the auction to Collective Napa Valley.
Built around spring, summer, and fall events, with additional curated experiences, Collective Napa Valley was conceived as an innovative, year-round, more inclusive successor to Auction Napa Valley. In a tent holding at most a thousand people, the high-ticket auction was beyond the reach of many wine enthusiasts, and at least short-term, the coronavirus pandemic rendered the packed-to-the-gills milieu problematic. For 2022, Collective Napa Valley events are in-person with a virtual component. The new fundraising endeavor, described as “a giving cooperative,” provides access to vintners and wine-related activities for aficionados of all stripes, from novices just embarking on their enological adventures to serious, well-heeled collectors.
Choose Your Level
Auction Napa Valley highlights such as the June barrel auction of still-aging wines remain in the new platform’s lineup, but capitalizing on lessons learned marketing wine online during the pandemic, Collective Napa Valley incorporates digital activities. And the three main donor tiers include one Photo courtesy of Napa Valley Vintners that’s complimentary. “There is a place at our proverbial table for anyone who loves wine and believes in doing good,” reads a line on the Collective Napa Valley website, where a donor can also join as an Enthusiast ($1,000 annually) or Premium Enthusiast ($5,000). So far, more than a thousand members have joined, raising $1 million.
In a recent interview, NVV president and CEO Linda Reiff noted that the first word in Collective Napa Valley’s name is intentional, encompassing the vintners and the larger winemaking and wine-loving community. For donors locally and around the world, Collective Napa Valley represents a win-win chance to gain entrée to stellar social and culinary activities while maximizing the value of each dollar contributed to proven community programs and organizations. It’s all about the collective pooling of resources to do good and make a difference, maintained Reiff.
Benefits for all members include exclusive wine-buying opportunities, eligibility to attend the June Barrel Auction Weekend, access to the spring and fall virtual offerings, and subscriptions to a magazine and a newsletter. Paying members are eligible to purchase tickets to special winery experiences and other bonuses that make joining worthwhile.
Collective Napa Valley debuted in 2022 with its first annual Spring Offering. The highlight, a live SOMM TV broadcast, starred Robin Lail of Lail Vineyards (her great-granduncle, Gustave Niebaum, started Inglenook in 1879), wine lover and former NFL free safety Will Blackmon (aka “The Wine MVP”), SOMM TV cast member Claire Coppi, and more than two-dozen winemakers and other wine folks. Audience members attending virtually were able to purchase half-bottles of wines in advance to sip along with the hosts and guests. Billed as a whirlwind tour through the Napa Valley’s terrain and microclimates, the show also revealed the diverse backgrounds and deep passion for excellence of the people who create wine here.
On the first weekend in June, the date of Auction Napa Valley for many years, vintner Jean-Charles Boisset and his wife, Gina Gallo, of the famous winemaking clan, are hosting the in-person barrel auction, the pinnacle event of the Summer 2022 festivities. The weekend’s events of note include vineyard walks and private winery events throughout the valley, the Napa Valley Barrel Auction at Raymond Vineyards, and a community-wide celebration in Yountville with nonprofit partners.
The Fall 2022 gathering, on the first weekend in November, will celebrate the harvest season. With harvest wrapping up, the accent will be on the 2022 vintage’s “fresh juice,” with winemakers reporting on what’s happening in the cellar. Another auction, this time of finished wines and customized winery experiences, is also planned. Bart, Daphne, Jaime and Greg Araujo of Accendo Cellars will co-chair this get-together.
Reinvention doesn’t happen without effective leadership. More than 60 vintners and community members came together to brainstorm ways to reinvigorate NVV’s fundraising programs. Reiff credited “the passion and spirit of our vintner leaders” for being willing to “dig in and work together, deliberate and debate, but have fun, and be innovative” as they came up with something new and better to replace the auction. “Collective Napa Valley is a team effort with my colleagues and the vintner community.” The leaders of Collective Napa Valley include 16 NVV board members plus community representatives and other key players.
Geologically speaking, the Napa Valley is a rare place indeed. Recognizing this, vintners here view themselves as not only stewards of the unique natural resources but also the human ones. As proven by Auction Napa Valley, Premiere Napa Valley, and numerous other events, they also know how to show wine lovers a fabulous time raising money for their groundbreaking programs. By prioritizing inclusivity, Collective Napa Valley promises to expand the possibilities for both.
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