Destin Charity Wine Auction raises millions for 15 local charities
Destin Charity Wine Auction breaks fundraising record
By Michelle Farnham
As if the 2018 South Walton Beaches Food & Wine Festival wasn’t enough merriment to pack into four days, the gala is also the site of the Destin Charity Wine Auction, now in its 13th year. Rated the No. 3 charity wine auction in the nation, the foundation set its sights on breaking last year’s record of $2.7 million, and when the final confetti flake fell, the proverbial tote board read $2.86 million.
The auction weekend begins with a dozen patron dinners that serve as mini fundraisers. This year’s gatherings brought in $896,000 – smashing last year’s take of $504,000. Jim and Ann Berri, along with Jim and Tammy Pierce, hosted the trophy-winning dinner with a record-breaking total of $202,145. That evening featured the food of New Orleans Chef Slade Rushing, and benefitted Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center.
On auction day, the 600 patrons start the afternoon off with an elegant reserve tasting, featuring celebrity winemakers from across the globe, bites from an impressive array of restaurants, and a selection of high-end products at the silent auction.
One of those winemakers was Jean-Noel Fourmeaux of VGS Chateau Potelle in St. Helena, Calif. A major player in the industry for decades, Fourmeaux was an official wine taster for the French government and served as a judge in the famous Judgment of Paris in 1976.
“The French government send me to spy, and I stay! That was 1980!” he said, while pouring samples of his Chardonnay VGS and Potelle Two. At an elevation of 2,300 feet, his vineyard is the highest in Napa Valley.
As the master of ceremonies, DCWAF President John Russell reminded patrons why they were gathered.
“Our goal is to do one thing and one thing only: raise money for kids,” he said. “Thirteen years of support makes an enormous difference in the life of a child,” a sentiment echoed throughout the evening, especially during the foundation’s Mission Moment video. Some of those children – now adults – were on hand for the event.
Auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski got bidding underway as everyone enjoyed bottle service and platters catered by Wild Olives Bistro of Rosemary Beach.
So what brought in the biggest bids? You might say the 2008 Tesla Roadster’s $82K, but in reality, it was Lot No. 1, the 50-bottle Magnum Force. Things got off to a good start as the collection brought in an extraordinary $65,000. After a few more lots were sold, however, Russell returned to the stage to announce the winning bidders had donated the lot back to the foundation, and it was again on the auction block. Once the bidding had concluded for the second time, the collection brought an additional $60,000.
“Sonoma is going to wonder what the hell happened in Destin!” Russell celebrated when the total raised hit the $2 million mark.
The Betz Family Winery’s African Safari and wine experience drew $46,000, while a whale-watching adventure to Cape Town, South Africa from Hamilton Russell Vineyards went for $40,500. An extra-special wine dinner and collection benefiting wine industry members affected by the 2017 Napa Valley wildfires raised $44,000.
As the auction’s honorary vintner, Steve Griessel of Betz Family Winery was impressed with both the turnout and the generosity shown to the 15 local charities.
“Destin is not the biggest city, but you guys have the biggest hearts and we are changing lives here,” Griessel said.
The foundation’s next event is the Harvest Wine & Food Festival, slated for Oct. 25 to 27, 2018. For more information, visit dcwaf.org and click on “Tickets.”
Photos by Michelle Farnham & Phil Heppding