We get an inside peek among the paddles and big bids at Auction Napa Valley.
Our resident wine enthusiast Ray Fister interviews some of the top wine makers in the country for his wine blog and podcast, Life Between the Vines.
His goal is to show that wine isn't always as stuffy as some oenophiles would like you to believe; in fact, he's found that most people involved in the wine industry are as down to earth as the grapes they grow.
And, he says, nowhere is that more on display than at the annual industry fundraiser, Auction Napa Valley, run by the Napa Valley Vintners. Fister attended this year's record-breaking fundraiser at the end of May, which brought in $16.9 million.
Given that usually the event draws $7 to $10 million, Fister says "that's astronomical - the highest lot went for $800,000."
It's a fairly swanky four-day affair, complete with elite dinners, small plates prepared by Top Chef winners, barrel auctions, and out-of-this-world lots to bid on. The lots include expensive wines, of course, but also trips to Europe, hotel rooms, sightseeing trips, tickets to games, flights and more.
But Fister says all the money and flashes of wealth are for a good cause.
"The whole point of these is to bring money into Napa Valley to help all of these charities," he says.
Some of the health and education charities that benefit include: the free health center Clinic Ole, Queen of the Valley Medical Center, St. Helena Hospital, American Canyon Family Resource Center, Calistoga Family Center, Napa Emergency Women's Services, Planned Parenthood, St. Helena Family Center, Family Services of Napa Valley.
Fister says the family focus of many of these charities reflects the family dynamic of many of Napa's wineries. And donors are happy to given. A couple of years ago, Fister says kids who attend some of the benefiting charities walked around selling cupcakes - that "sold" for upwards of $5,000.
"It's called 'fund a cause,'" he says. "Basically you're not getting a lot back, you're just getting the satisfaction of helping out."
It's been the focus of the event since its inception three decades ago by famous winemakers like Robert Mondavi and John Shafer.
"Admittedly, sure, this is about wine, which is something that's very desirable, or recreational, but anybody in any community could take a resource like that and turn it into something to benefit their community," Fister says.