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Big Wines, Big Hearts

Author: Stephen Ferry
January, 2015 Issue

“Local winegrowers have found an amazing array of ways to support local nonprofit organizations.” —Tony Lombardi, Kosta Browne

The North Bay winegrowing community is very generous in its support of local nonprofits and other charitable entities. Philanthropic efforts range from young family members working with local schools to wine auctions generating tens of millions of dollars. The common thread is the commitment to community and the willingness to give help where it’s needed.
“The more you look into the philanthropic activities of our local wineries, the more interesting it becomes,” says Tony Lombardi, brand and public relations director for Kosta Browne Winery in Sebastopol. “Local winegrowers have found an amazing array of ways to support local nonprofit organizations [NPOs].”

Staglin Family Vineyard

“Our family vineyard motto is, ‘Great Wine for Great Causes,’ and we absolutely live that at Staglin Family Vineyard,” says Garen Staglin, co-proprietor at Staglin Family Vineyard in Rutherford. “Our son, Brandon, was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 19. Since then, we’ve been at the forefront in finding the causes and cures for mental illness. Instead of running away from the issue, we chose to run toward it—and we’ve never looked back.”
A small annual benefit concert in Napa Valley, started in 1995, has since bloomed into the Music Festival for Mental Health at Staglin Family Vineyard, which brings together renowned chefs and wineries, top-bill musicians and leading scientists to raise significant funds and awareness of mental illness issues. Over the years, performers have included Gladys Knight, Dionne Warwick, Dwight Yoakam, Brian Wilson, Pointer Sisters, Pat Benatar and many more.
Says Staglin, “We’re committed to continuing to seek ways to support mental health and reduce the burden of brain disease worldwide.”
The Staglin family celebrated the 20th Annual Music Festival for Brain Health on September 13 and 14, 2014; the event raised nearly $3.5 million to benefit the IMHRO/One Mind Institute and One Mind. Over its 20 years, the festival has raised close to $210 million.

Flanagan Wines

Flanagan Wines in Sonoma County’s Bennett Valley has partnered with Community Child Care Council (4Cs) of Sonoma County, a nonprofit agency that operates child development centers and preschools throughout the county.
In 2012, Riley Flanagan (daughter of winery founder Eric Flanagan), chose 4Cs for her eighth grade community service project. She visited with the children and organized a dinner that raised more than $15,000 for the organization. Since then, Flanagan Wines has done several events with proceeds benefiting 4Cs.
“4Cs is dedicated to supporting and providing quality, accessible and affordable preschool, child care and nutrition services for children, families and child care professionals through education, resources and direct services,” explains Jenny Juhl, community relations director for the organization. “Our programs provide direct support to low-income families in need of child care and preschool, so parents can continue to work or attain vocational education. We serve more than 500 children in our 12 high-quality preschools throughout Sonoma County, as well as thousands of parents needing help to find and pay for child care. We also run several programs to increase the quality of all child care and preschool programs across Sonoma, Napa and Marin counties.”
Riley, now 15, currently serves as an honorary board member and assists the board of directors in finding volunteers and donations for 4Cs’ outreach events. Her father, Eric, has also donated more than 2,000 books to the children at 4Cs. Flanagan Wines recently donated the gross proceeds of its annual harvest and wine release party to 4Cs, contributing $5,000 to the organization.
Says Eric, “To me, helping kids get a good start in life is the best thing we can do to make our future better.”

Vineyard 29

Chuck McMinn is founder of Covad (among other tech ventures) and proprietor of Vineyard 29 in St. Helena. In addition, he’s founder and board chair of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition, a group driving the creation of a 47-mile hiking and biking trail that will eventually run from the Vallejo Ferry Terminal to Calistoga. Three million annual uses are projected for the trail when it’s complete.
McMinn is also founder and board chair of NapaLearns, which provides forward-looking support, resources and funding to all five school districts in Napa County, supporting the implementation of 1:1 technology and project-based learning for all students. Specific forms of support are: tuition support for teachers to obtain masters degrees in educational technology (79 to date); training for teachers in 21st century teaching skills; payment for coordinators and substitutes so teachers can attend training; a loan program for parents to purchase digital devices; and funding for classroom digital devices and devices for foster youth.
He’s devoted time to several other local NPOs, including the St. Helena Hospital Foundation, which provides funding for capital improvements to the hospital and support of charity care to the community. In the past, McMinn has served as committee chair of several Napa Valley Vintners and Auction Napa Valley committees. He’s currently a committee member.
“For NapaLearns and Napa Valley Vine Trail, I saw the need to create these organizations to fill gaps in services in the county. For St. Helena Hospital Foundation and Napa Valley Vintners and Auction Napa Valley, I was asked to join their existing efforts,” says McMinn.
“I’m proud of the contributions these NPOs have made to our community,” he continues. “Vine Trail has raised $8.5 million through philanthropy and grants, and our next phase is to construct 12.5 miles, from south of Napa to Yountville, by the fall of 2015.
"NapaLearns has raised approximately $8 million since its inception in 2010, and is rolling out the project-based learning approach pioneered at Napa’s New Technology High School to 10 of the 30 schools in Napa Valley, with more to come. We’ve provided loans to buy digital devices to more than 400 families. We’ve helped Calistoga become a California Distinguished School and a national Blue Ribbon School through the use of digital devices and curricula. And NVV/ANV is the most successful wine auction in the United States, with more than $130 million raised to support NPOs in the county.”
You can help the Vine Trail by becoming a member, donate or volunteer at NapaLearns is grateful for donations or service as a community volunteer for classroom projects at SHH accepts donations at And of course, everyone is invited to attend Auction Napa Valley in June or bid on items in its e-auction online at

Levensohn Vineyards

International business professional Pascal Levensohn and his wife, Melanie, a public policy and strategic communications expert, believe securing a successful future for local children begins with an investment in education. The couple, which owns and operates Levensohn Vineyards in St. Helena, have made the town their full-time home since their marriage in 2013. Pascal first supported the nonprofit in 1996 to provide the organization’s entrepreneurial training program to elementary school children. The entrepreneurial education program prepares children to compete in a global economy. In September 2014, Levensohn Vineyards announced a gift of $10,000 to to bring the entrepreneurial training program to Napa Valley.
“We feel strongly that we need to support the North Bay, and the Napa community, in particular," says Melanie. “We’re active supporters of the St. Helena Hospital Foundation, on whose board of ambassadors Pascal serves and, as members of the Napa Valley Vintners, we raised $190,000 from the Levensohn Vineyards ANV 2014 Live Auction Lot to support Napa charities.”
“As residents of St. Helena, supporting the Napa community is a priority for us,” says Pascal. “As a finance professional for more than 34 years and an entrepreneur since 1994, I believe helping children understand the basics of business early in their formal education can build a lasting foundation and desire to succeed later in life.’s unique program provides kids not just with the basics of building a business, but also with crucial skills such as teamwork, leadership and financial management that will give them a competitive advantage to succeed in school and beyond.”
Pascal is a technology entrepreneur and venture capitalist. Melanie’s background includes international journalism and diplomacy, working with the World Health Organization and later the World Bank.

Kosta Browne Winery

“Part of what we do here at Kosta Browne Winery is donate wine to about 12 wine charity auctions around the country every year. Through our participation—with our wines and experiential lots we create—we raise about a half-million dollars for worhtwhile causes each year,” says Lombardi.
Winery founders Dan Kosta, Michael Browne and Chris Costello focus much of their charitable giving on organizations that benefit and support children. “We believe the biggest impacts can be accomplished by helping children. It’s investing in the future,” says Lombardi.
In addition to 100 cases of large-format bottles that are produced exclusively for charity events, Kosta Browne also offers experiential auction lots, such as a lunch for six or dinner for 20 hosted at the winery in Sebastopol. “Dan and I were in Sun Valley for its Center of the Arts wine auction this past July, and we put together an auction lot that was a trip for 10 to Cabo San Lucas plus three large-format bottles—and it raised $80,000,” says Lombardi.
The list of benefactors of Kosta Brown’s generosity is long, and includes the Redwood Empire Food Bank, the Sonoma County Museum, Cystic Fibrosis and Cystinosis Research, Global Student Embassy, local schools and Northern California Make-A-Wish Foundation.
For 2015, Lombardi says, “In February, we participate in an event in Raleigh, N.C., that we’ve done for many years, called the Triangle Wine Experience. It benefits the Frankie Lemmon School that provides education, advocacy and support for young children with special needs. Each March, we participate in the High Museum Wine Auction in Atlanta, Ga., which benefits its local art center. And locally, also in March, we donate to the Pigs and Pinot charity event in Healdsburg, which benefits many charities in Sonoma County, including schools and children’s organizations.”

Jones Family Vineyard

“My wife, Elaine, and I are long-term supporters of a variety of nonprofits that support improved health care and services to children throughout Napa Valley,” says Rick Jones, founder of Jones Family Vineyards in Calistoga. “These include the St. Helena Hospital, Clinic Ole, NapaLearns, The UpValley Family Centers and Auction Napa Valley.”
“Elaine and I both believe that our support should include both financial aid as well as our own time and expertise,” says Rick. “We’ve served on the boards of several of these organizations at one time or another. Currently, I’m vice chair of NapaLearns and treasurer of Clinic Ole, and Elaine is secretary of the St. Helena Hospital Foundation and vice-chair of the UpValley Family Centers. I’m a past president of the Napa Valley Vintners and Auction Napa Valley and currently serve on its grants review committee.”
“When we moved to Napa Valley nearly 20 years ago, we recognized that the community had a great divide between those who have and those who don’t, and we wanted to help bridge that gap,” recalls Jones. “Over the years, we’ve tried to support organizations that serve everyone in Napa.”

More Wine Country giving

There are many more examples of philanthropic activity by the local winegrowing community. A few—but by no means all—include:
In the early 2000s, John Shafer of Shafer Vineyards led the effort to build Clinic Ole, Napa’s local medical clinic that serves one in six Napa County residents (more than 30,000 clients) annually. John celebrated his 90th birthday last October 11 and is still very much involved in the philanthropic efforts today.
Warren Winiarski, founder of Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars, is a major donor to Queen of the Valley Hospital and other local causes.
Craig and Kathryn Hall (founders of Hall and Walt wines) are supporters of the arts and our local humane society, among other charities. Kathryn was U.S. Ambassador to Austria under Bill Clinton.
Margrit Mondavi (and the late Robert Mondavi) have given millions to local arts projects and spearheaded the restoration of Napa’s downtown Opera House (now City Winery). They were the founders and primary donors for Copia (which, sadly, no longer exists) and gave $35 million to UC Davis for various projects.
Jackson Family Wines, now led by Barbara Banke, is passionate about strengthening the local community. They’re strong advocates for family and education, dedicating sizeable time and resources to enhance the quality of life for families in need. Among the many Northern California organizations the family supports are Red Cross, United Way, The Family Justice Center of Sonoma County, UC Davis Jess S. Jackson Sustainable Winery Building, Boys & Girls Club, Redwood Empire Food Bank and both the Sonoma and Napa county vintner associations.
The Davies family of Schramsberg Vineyards established the Jack L. Davies Foundation in honor of the family’s patriarch, who helped establish the Napa Valley Ag Preserve in 1968. The foundation helps to further the spirit of the Ag Preserve in Napa County.
The Duncan family of Silver Oak Cellars is a significant donor to St. Helena Hospital and Clinic Ole.
Bob and Elizabeth VanDyk started Napa Valley’s Van Dyk Family Wines in 2012 with the goal of using the venture to promote caring for an aging population. Profits are donated to Alzheimers and other senior care organizations.
All proceeds from Ehlers Estate go to the Leducq Foundation to support international cardiovascular research.
Randy Dunn of Angwin’s Dunn Vineyards spearheaded and made significant contributions to the Land Trust of Napa County to fund the more than $20 million acquisition of the Wildlake Ranch and Duff Ranch properties, the largest single acquisition of land for the local Land Trust (in excess of 4,000 acres).
Leslie Rudd, vintner and owner of Dean & DeLuca, has given significant sums of money to education in the Napa community, including the lead grant for the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena.
Ron and Teri Kuhn are top Auction Napa Valley bidders who’ve given tens of millions to the annual charity wine event since its inception in 1981.
Barry Schuler, former CEO of America Online and owner of Meteor Vineyard in Napa, is a philanthropic leader in education in Napa County.
According to Lombardi at Kosta Browne, charitable work has hidden benefits as well. “I feel very grateful to be in a position to help with a bottle of wine that raises much-needed funds for so many worthwhile organizations,” he says. “As we organize and attend the various charity events arund the country and in our own backyard, the people we get to meet are really cool. What I’ve found over the years is that people who are involved in charity and philanthropy are exactly the kind of people you want to become friends with and nurture a relationship with over a long period of time.”
In other words, through philanthropy, both giver and receiver benefit.

Auction Napa Valley

“Annually, we give support to approximately 25 local health care and youth education nonprofits,” says Patsy McGaughy, communications director for Napa Valley Vintners. “We also make significant strategic donations, like our recent $10 million lead grant for earthquake relief, our $2.5 million donation to the Vine Trail, our $3 million seed money for Clinic Ole, our $1 million grant to establish the Children’s Health Initiative to ensure every child in Napa County has access to health insurance and our recent multi-year, multi-million-dollar pledge to ensure every child in Napa County enters kindergarten ready to learn [to help close the academic achievement gap].”
The NVV philanthropy program was the vision of Robert and Margrit Mondavi and several other vintner leaders who founded Auction Napa Valley in 1981. That year, $140,000 was raised for the two local hospitals. They’ve been giving an average of $5 to $15 million per year for the past 10-plus years. The 2014 Auction Napa Valley fund-raiser generated $18.7 million and will benefit more than 25 different NPOs.
“Auction Napa Valley brings out the philanthropy of our vintner members, who donate wines, experiences and hospitality for the event, which, in turn, draw hundreds of donors, who give millions of dollars to the fund-raiser,” says McGaughy.
Adds McGaughy, “To help, interested people can either attend our annual event and donate or participate in our global online auction and fund-a-need, which are open to any donor anywhere in the world the first week in June each year.”

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend is Sonoma County’s signature charity event, bringing together more than 200 top winemakers and growers, along with a collection of the area’s best chefs. Jointly produced by the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Foundation, all proceeds benefit local charities. Since its inception in 2008, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend has raised more than $12 million for charities that benefit students, children, farm workers and people in need in Sonoma County communities.
Among the many worthwhile charities supported by the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction are the Fund the Future programs, which specifically support children’s literacy. These include Schools of Hope (United Way of the Wine Country), Pasitos Playgroups (Community Action Partnership), AVANCE (Community Action Partnership), Accelerated English Program (Healdsburg Education Foundation), and Summer Reading and Writing Academy and Grade Level Proficiency Project (Sonoma Valley Education Foundation).
These programs were selected based on proven track records, strong metrics, geographic coverage, and with an eye to supporting a range of programs addressing both pre-reading preparation and teaching young children to read.



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