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Sonoma County Wine Auction raises $1.2 million for local nonprofits

The Sonoma County Wine Auction held its annual fundraising event Saturday — virtually, because of the coronavirus pandemic — and raised $1.17 million for county nonprofits, down significantly from $6.1 million last year.

A major part of the total raised, $726,000, will help bridge the digital divide impacting local students forced into online classes during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Our world has had many challenges this year, but we are incredibly grateful to the generous donors, philanthropic vintners and sponsors who came together virtually to provide support for important nonprofits of Sonoma County,” said honorary co-chair Mark McWilliams of Arista Winery.

The top single lot of the day, which sold for $32,000, featured a collection of Williams Selyem wines and tickets to Super Bowl LVI in February 2022.

Another hot lot, snagging $30,000, included a luxurious dinner party with entrees prepared by celebrity chef Charlie Palmer at his home and wines provided by vintner Daryl Groom.

This year’s honorary co-chairs — McWilliams, Clay Mauritson of Mauritson Wines and Jake Bilbro of Limerick Lane Cellars — together offered the 2020 Kids Krewe Cuvee lot, featuring wine and a barn party. They said the lot, which raised $8,000, is a three-family endeavor that will benefit fire relief in Sonoma County.

“My son, Cruz, is excited to start working on the ‘Kids Krewe Cuvée’ red wine with his friends,” Bilbro said. “It is an honor to have this opportunity to instill the importance of giving with my children and their friends through this unique offering.”

More than 190 guests tuned in to take part in the online auction, with a geographic reach throughout the country. Last year the auction drew about 400 people.

The top donors in the digital divide effort include: Foley Family at $250,000; Benovia Winery & Anderson Family Foundation at $100,000; E. & J. Gallo Winery and the Gallo Family at $100,000; Rodney Strong Vineyards at $50,000; Hamel Family at $50,000; Bricoleur Vineyards and Wall Family Foundation together at $50,000; Ingram Lee Foundation at $50,000; Francis Ford Coppola Winery at $25,000; Emeril Lagasse Foundation at $15,000 and the Craig and Kathryn Hall Foundation on behalf of WALT & BACA Wines at $10,000.

Vintners said this year it’s essential to address the digital divide in education, a problem that has become more acute following the closure of school campuses to slow the spread of COVID-19. It has forced roughly 68,000 students in Sonoma County to take classes online, from home, with no clear reopening date for schools.

At least 30 of the 40 public school districts in Sonoma County have students with no access to the internet at home, according to a spring study by the Sonoma County Office of Education.

“Now that the funds have been raised, we will work with our community partners to determine the most impactful distribution of the funding,” explained Karin Demarest of the Community Foundation Sonoma County. “That could include the purchase of Chromebooks, laptops or Wi-Fi hotspots to help kids access their classrooms and create the right conditions where they can learn.”

Steve Herrington, Sonoma County superintendent of schools, said, “This large sum will go a long way toward addressing the technology gap in our community by enabling schools to purchase mobile hot spots, computing devices and other items critical to students accessing their learning remotely.”

While the auction raised roughly $5 million less than last year, organizers said the pandemic and wildfires complicated their fundraising efforts. They noted that more than $37 million has been raised over the auction’s 27-year run, benefiting education, health and human services, the environment and arts and culture.

Auction Napa Valley canceled its auction as a result of the pandemic, the first time it has done so in the event’s 40-year history. However, the Napa Valley Vintners have pledged $8 million for 24 nonprofits this year, according to auction director Brandy Leonards.

Meanwhile, the Naples Winter Wine Festival raised more than $20 million in January, before public events were prohibited because of the pandemic.

An earlier version of this story misstated the amount raised by the 2020 Kids Krewe Cuvee lot.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

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