When she started out there weren’t a lot of female role models to show Leslie Sbrocco the way to success as a wine writer and speaker, so she kind of paved her own path because she developed a passion for wine and wanted to pursue a career in it.
Sbrocco not only carved out a career for herself, she’s earned celebrity status as an award-winning author, speaker and consultant, but people may recognize her most as host of the PBS restaurant review series “Check Please!”
Come March 3 she’ll cajole and nudge bidders to part with more money when she takes on the role of auctioneer at the 17th annual Soroptimist International of Calistoga Crab Fest fundraiser.
“I have no shame when it comes to asking for more money for charities,” Sbrocco said.
The mission of Soroptimist will broaden this year with proceeds from the Silent Auction used to support Calistogans personally affected by October’s wildfires. Monies from the rest of the event, such as the live auction, will fund scholarships and other projects.
Sbrocco gets a lot of requests from nonprofits for her time and personality and is selective about which ones she chooses to work with, in part because of her busy schedule, she said.
“I love the mission of the Soroptimists … it is in alignment with my beliefs as well,” Sbrocco said.
One of the aspects of Soroptimist that is appealing to Sbrocco is the organization’s support of education — monies from the annual Crab Fest traditionally provide scholarships for Calistoga’s students.
“Education is key, it’s important,” Sbrocco said. Growing up in Chicago, the death of her father at an early age left her mother as a single parent, who stressed education. It was never a consideration to not go to college.
While some students may fret over declaring a major in college, Sbrocco is living proof that it’s OK to change your mind.
“I went to college and wanted to be a lawyer. I moved to California and wanted to go to law school then go into politics,” she said. “I decided it was not a good match for me.”
While attending American Conservatory Theater, she also did some work on camera. Along the way she started “falling in love with wine,” but 25 years ago when this was all happening “people weren’t getting their WSET” (Wine and Spirit Education Trust) and there was not an abundance of wine education avenues like there is now, Sbrocco said. She pursued her passion by reading wine books, hanging out at wineries, traveling through wine regions and taking some courses at UC Davis.
Next weekend that passion will be transferred to auctioning off donated items, including one she’s donating herself — a wine tasting with Sbrocco, and a set visit to a “Check Please!” taping, valued at over $2,000.
“It’s a closed set,” she said, and the only time there are other people on the set is when they are winners of auction lots such as this, which will include a tour and the wine tasting.
Other auction items include travel and experiences such as a birthday party with a firefighter with cake delivery by Calistoga firefighters, two tickets to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival, a one-week stay in a condo in Steamboat Springs, three nights in a South Lake Tahoe cabin, a tailgate party and suite for San Francisco Giants vs. Oakland A’s baseball game, a two-night stay at Calistoga Motor Lodge, one night at Calistoga Ranch, a stay in an 800-year-old house in Saint Cyprien in the Dordogne region of France, a hot air balloon ride and champagne brunch for two, and more.
Single bottle and multi-bottle wine packages from wineries such as Summers Estate, Tom Eddy, von Strasser, Shypoke, Storybook, Laura Michael, Bennett Lane, Kenefick, Huge Bear, Chateau Montelena, Canard, Herb Lamb Vineyards, H.L.R. Cellars, Paradigm, Burgess Cellars, Heitz Wine Cellars, Alpha Omega, Carol Shelton Wines, and Shafer Vineyards to name a few.
Culinary options include an Evangeline fried chicken dinner with Mayor Chris Canning, a Meadowood Napa Valley lunch and croquet for four people, gift certificates to Café Sarafornia, Bosko’s Calistoga Inn, a Wine Enthusiast class for four people at CIA Greystone, and more.
Tickets to Crab Fest, which will be held Saturday, March 3, from 5:30 to 10 p.m. at the Napa County Fairgrounds, are $75 per person; table purchases are encouraged (8-10 per table). Tickets can be purchase online for tickets or sponsorship: sicalistoga.org. Businesses interested in donating a gift certificate, artwork, wine, wine club membership, silent or live auction items or a donation of services may do so via the website.
Guests of Crab Fest are encouraged to share their Crab Fest 2018 experiences on social media using the hashtag #SICalistoga.
UPDATE: The auction item of a trip to Nashville that was listed in the original version of this story is no longer an option. It has been replaced with a trip to France.