By the time auctioneer Dawnmarie Kotsonis brought down the gavel for the last time at the 2016 Santa Barbara Wine Auction Benefiting Direct Relief, the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation had raised over $1 million for the nonprofit. It was a record-shattering tally in the 16-year history of the collaboration.
The foundation is the charitable arm of Santa Barbara Vintners, the Buellton-based trade organization representing over 120 local wineries. Direct Relief, is the nearly 70-year-old medical relief agency located in Goleta. It is ranked among the country's top 10 in several categories by the respected U.S. nonprofit watchdog organization, Charity Navigator.
Generous donors attending the March 12 event at Bacara Resort spent $16,000 for a party and dinner for 40 at Buellton next door neighbors, Alma Rosa Winery and Industrial Eats. It was sold twice, raising $32,000 for the cause.
A week-long stay in a private three-bedroom villa in Costa Rica, owned and donated by Martin Gore, founding member of the legendary English electronic band Depeche Mode, sold for $28,000.
Seventy people will celebrate 40 years of wines made from the fabled Sanford & Benedict Vineyard with dinner from the Hitching Post II restaurant, at what promises to be an evening for the ages in August. Organized by Hitching Post owner Frank Ostini, it pulled in $70,000 for Direct Relief.
Perhaps even more impressive was the well over $100,000 brought in during the Stand Up and Be Counted, with attendees raising their paddles in amounts from $10,000 to $250, getting nothing in return except the satisfaction of helping a charity they believe in.
Chris Harrison, host of "The Bachelor" and "The Bachelorette," was the master of ceremonies for the second time.
"I get invited to do hundreds of events and in my old age, I've gotten very choosy about what I accept," he said. "Years ago, when Andrew Firestone was the Bachelor, I was just this redneck from Texas who knew nothing about wine or a place called Santa Ynez. He introduced me to wine and the people of the Valley. The Valley is full of a lot of rednecks like I am," he added in the most complimentary way. "They're cowboys and farmers, and they love what they do. Maybe they have better tasting pinot than we do in Texas, but we're all the same kind of people."
Harrison proved the point by bidding on various lots of pinot during the silent auction.
He learned about Direct Relief from Firestone's sister, Hayley Firestone Jessup, who worked for the organization a number of years and remains an active supporter.
"With what Direct Relief has done with no government money, and 100 percent financial transparency and efficiency, I was sold," he said. "The people, the cause - and it's a great night."
That efficiency enables Direct Relief to leverage the $1 million raised during the evening into "over $30 million in medical aid around the globe and right here in our community," explained Vintners Foundation president Jenny Doré.
The Santa Barbara Wine Auction, held every other year since 2000, is a significant source of funding for Direct Relief. The organization provides medicine and medical equipment to people who would otherwise not have access to it because of extreme poverty, political unrest or natural disaster. Whether it is flooding in Louisiana or an earthquake in Nepal, Direct Relief is often first on the scene with medical supplies.
Closer to home, it has supplied everything from dental care kits to families in Santa Maria and Isla Vista, to emergency supply backpacks to first responders throughout California.