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Napa Valley Vine Trail gala raises $340,000 at St. Helena's Charles Krug Winery

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Chuck McMinn, Stacey Bressler

Chuck McMinn, founder of the Napa Valley Vine Trail and Stacey Bressler, local vintner and volunteer, enjoyed a glass or two of wine and dinner from Ad Hoc during the "Loco Motion" gala fundraiser on Saturday, Feb. 10.

After being wined, dined and entertained, many people lifted their paddles and raised $340,000 for the Napa Valley Vine Trail on Feb. 10 in the Carriage House at Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena.

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Chuck McMinn blows out his birthday candles

Birthday boy Chuck McMinn blows out the candles at the gala fundraising event for the Napa Valley Vine Trail, which he founded. His cake was actually a cupcake, the largest ever made by Napa's Kara's Cupcakes.

Some 200 people attended what was billed as “the Greatest Show in the Napa Valley,” were entertained by the circus acts of the Traveling Spectacular and Oddjob Ensemble, and enjoyed a four-course fried chicken dinner prepared by Yountville’s Ad Hoc. After putting $50 raffle tickets into jars for 10 raffle prizes – the winning tickets were drawn by Peter Mondavi Jr. as host of the venue – many in the crowd bid for the 11 Buy-A-Spot experiences.

Master of Ceremonies Chris Canning then kicked off the Fund-A-Need, aimed at raising $200,000 for Vine Trail programs and a Ravo-brand vacuum trail sweeper, designed for narrow streets or paved bicycle and walking trails. Canning asked for $100,000 and shortly thereafter Ric and Elaine Jones of Jones Family Vineyards raised their paddle.

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Ric and Elaine Jones

Chris Canning, master of ceremonies at the Feb. 10 gala fundraising event for the Napa Valley Vine Trail, thanked Ric and Elaine Jones, who raised their paddle and donated $100,000 during the event's Fund-A-Need auction.

Canning asked for $50,000 and Chuck and Anne McMinn raised their paddle to make that donation. McMinn spoke to the crowd earlier as founder of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition. Canning, the executive director of the Calistoga Chamber of Commerce and mayor of Calistoga, wasn’t done. He asked for a donation of $25,000 and Calistoga vintner Joseph Bartholomew, who owns Joseph Cellars Winery, complied.

When asked why he supports the Napa Valley Vine Trail, Bartholomew said, “Let’s start by saying it’s a great addition to our community (and is) coming up toward Calistoga. Second, I want to be a part of the community and be involved with the community and that’s what it’s all about. My kids are 6 and 8 years old and they’re going to enjoy this for years to come.”

Many people raised their paddles to donate $10,000, $5,000 and $1,000. One of those was Catherine Heywood, who lives in Angwin, works for Visit Napa Valley, and serves on the Vine Trail board. Why does she support the Napa Valley Vine Trail? “I think it is one of the best things to happen in this valley, for people to be able to walk or ride their bike or run (on a trail) away from cars. I grew up on Highway 29,” she said, and as an 8-year-old, she rode her bike on Highway 29, “so I know how dangerous it is.”

She added that as a mother, she is “super excited to have a safe, dedicated trail for the families of Napa Valley to get to and from wherever they want to go.” Heywood was one of the raffle winners and said she won a cruiser-type bike, which is what one wants when one is older than 50, she said.

“I raised my paddle, I try to give as often as I can, mostly on a volunteer basis, trying to keep the trail clean and being a part of work parties. My husband is the official cyclist of the family,” Heywood added, “I’m the enthusiast.”

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Calistoga's Joe Bartholomew

Raising his paddle to donate $25,000 during the Napa Valley Vine Trail's Fund-A-Need auction was Joseph Bartholomew, owner of Joseph Cellars Winery in Calistoga.

During the evening, McMinn, founder of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition, spoke about the beginnings of the Vine Trail and its beginnings 10 years ago. It started with “a crazy idea that I had, which was other world-class places have great ways to get around without a car, why don’t we?” McMinn said.

In July 2008, Tom Shelton, who led Joseph Phelps for a number of years, was dying of cancer. McMinn said he heard about this idea and told McMinn that he wanted his memorial fund to be dedicated to the Napa Valley Vine Trail.

“So we had the unveiling of the Vine Trail concept in October of that year and we raised $85,000 for the cause. It was a wonderful start and it was meant to be,” McMinn said. “I hope Tom is looking down now, 10 years later, and saying, ‘I think they got it.’”

McMinn said the group has come a long way in the past decade and they have built 40 percent of the 47-mile Vine Trail. “We have all the money we need to build the next 20 percent to get us to 60 percent built,” he said.

One of the projects is down in Vallejo and the other is from Calistoga to St. Helena. “We are ready to go, we just need a few more land owners to get on board, but we have all the money needed to build it and we’re going to get it done, one way or another,” he said.

Philip Sales, the executive director of the Napa Valley Vine Trail Coalition, said the group has been fortunate in getting the funding together for the next 15 miles.

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Catherine Heywood

Angwin resident Catherine Heywood was one of about 200 people who attended a gala fundraiser for the Napa Valley Vine Trail. She raises her paddle to donate $1,000 during the Fund-A-Need campaign.

“We have a $6.1 million grant to build from Calistoga to St. Helena and we have a $4.2 million grant to build from Vallejo to American Canyon. We pledged at that time we were going to raise $3 million and that was one of the reasons we were able to get those grants,” he said.

Some of those funds will come from Measure T and a lot of those other funds will come from private philanthropy, he said. “Tonight is an opportunity for us to re-up, so to speak, and help fund the rest of the project.”

Currently, the Vine Trail has a contiguous segment from Yountville to Napa, which is 12.5 miles. Overall, there are 18 miles of the Vine Trail. McMinn said people are using the trail, especially in the past 12 to15 months. Last year, he said, 348,000 uses of the trail were recorded between Napa and Yountville and it was honored as the statewide bike and pedestrian project of the year.

As wonderful as that is, McMinn said it is rewarding to see who is using the trail as he drives from Yountville to Napa. “It’s little kids, it’s dog walkers, it’s dad and moms, it’s young couples, it’s bike tours,” he said. “And a lot of the users are locals. This is not just a tourist trail, it is a trail for us.”

Napa’s Kara’s Cupcakes provided dessert for the evening and after the speeches and fundraising, Sales had a surprise for McMinn, who was celebrating his birthday. He brought out the biggest cupcake that Kara’s has ever made, complete with five candles. As the crowd cheered and sang “Happy Birthday” to McMinn, he blew out the candles.

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St. Helena Star Editor

David Stoneberg is the editor of the St. Helena Star, an award-winning weekly newspaper. Prior to joining the Star in 2006, he worked for the Lake County Record-Bee, the Clear Lake Observer American, the Middletown Times Star, The Weekly Calistogan and st