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Napa Valley Vintners continue philanthropy even while they create replacement for Auction Napa Valley

From the Napa Valley Wine Insider Digest: Nov. 20, 2021 series
  • Updated
Barrel Auction

Jennifer Scott, director of communications at Stag's Leap Wine Cellars pours wine at the 2018 Barrel Auction. The Barrel Auction is expected to be part of a year-round lineup the Napa Valley Vintners plan to replace the annual Auction Napa Valley, which has been discontinued.

Continuing its 40-year tradition of philanthropic giving, the Napa Valley Vintners are funneling $5.9 million into the community this year, a bold move after announcing the end of its longtime fundraiser Auction Napa Valley.

A fixture in the community for decades, Auction was the main avenue of raising money for NVV’s 20-plus nonprofit partners and will be replaced with a new model called “Collective Napa Valley” next summer.

Thanks to a rainy day fund set up by NVV’s founding fathers, the group has a $15 million plan for the next three years as they ease into this new fundraising model, allowing them to continue their philanthropic giving in the meantime.

“Change is hard,” said Linda Reiff, NVV President, and CEO. “But as life continues to progress, we have to be innovative and that is what Napa Valley is known for … We cannot rest on our laurels, and we cannot keep doing the same thing we have been doing for 40 years,” she said.

“It was time for a big, radical change.”

Logistics are still in the works for how Collective will actually work, but NVV is excited to involve wine enthusiasts from different backgrounds across the world with its year-round format. So, instead of one big event each year, like the former Auction, Collective will have seasonal offerings for members with different tiers. (Don’t fret — the barrel auction will be making a comeback.)

At a basic, complimentary level, though, Collective members will receive communications from the group as well as its publication, Napa Magazine. From there, members can give as much as they like, traversing membership tiers and gaining access to new experiences all the while.

“We have reinvented absolutely everything that this organization does,” said Reiff. “This is our transformational year for our organization and for our industry.”

Regardless of this big change, the group is still giving sizable donations to 24 nonprofit partners this year.

Of the $5.9 million donation, $2.7 million is going toward mental and physical health, $1.8 million is for local family resource centers, and $1.4 million will be given to help close the opportunity gap through youth programming. NVV has been focusing on funding partner organizations deeply rather than donating smaller amounts broadly, and as a result, this year they project that the funding from these grants will touch about 100,000 community members in Napa Valley.

40 years of impact

“Auction Napa Valley has been the most significant source of funding for nonprofits in the valley for 40 years,” said Terence Mulligan, CEO of Napa Valley Community Foundation. “I think of it as a shining example of the tradition we have in Napa of raising the barn wall when things need attention and neighbors lending a hand.”

As an authority on charitable programming in the valley, Mulligan is better than anyone to attest to the impact that NVV and Auction have on the community. He estimates that about 10 percent of individual philanthropic giving in the valley can be tied back to NVV, and recognizes how these grants have helped elevate many local nonprofits to the point where they can throw their own successful fundraisers.

Similarly, after the 2014 South Napa earthquake, NVV stepped up and donated $10 million to the Community Foundation for them to distribute among their partners, and Mulligan continues to speak to how impactful this gift was.

“I have been here 17 years, so I am almost a local now, but what I think is special about this place has a lot to do with its agricultural tradition,” he said. “I continue to hear stories with this idea of Mother Nature being unpredictable and therefore we have to take care of our own, [and] I think of Auction as a beautiful example of that.”

But with such impact comes a heightened sense of responsibility, and NVV is well aware of how the community relies on its giving.

“We have a three-year, $15 million fund during this transition stage so that none of our nonprofit partners would be left high and dry,” explained Rex Stults, NVV’s VP of Industry Relations. “From day one, we have been very transparent and straightforward with them about what we are doing.”

“They know that there will be changes and we don’t know what the future is going to look like in terms of giving and our ability to give, but there is this social safety net for our transitionary period that will help everybody plan a little bit better.”

There have been no concrete projections of what Collective is going to bring in to start, but Stults says the group is confident in their ability to make this new model successful.

“The only person who likes change is a wet baby, and there are not a lot of wet babies out there, so understandably there is a little bit of apprehension,” he said. “But three years is a lot of time to plan and to make other fundraising plans.”

NVV will take some of their “greatest hits” from Auction and adjust them for Collective, but the live auction will not be making a return. According to Teresa Wall, NVV’s Senior Director of Marketing Communications, “The live auction portion had gotten to the point where some of the lots were quite large in terms of what needed to be given in order for it to become a live lot,” so that portion of the event will not persist in its existing format.

“We ran the same auction for 40 years,” said Wall. “We changed things up, but the format was very similar for 40 years and so in order to be sustainable in not just giving but also being a successful event for the next 40 years, we wanted to also be forward thinkers.”

“We are still thought of as one of the most celebrated wine auctions, and now we are hoping to break ground and create a whole new way of giving.”

Collective will launch membership on Dec. 1, 2021, with the first offerings beginning in March of 2022. In-person events are anticipated starting June 2022.

Is this the end for a Napa homeless camp called The Bowl? Residents have been told to leave by Nov. 16. Take a look here.

You can reach Sam Jones at 707-256-2221 and

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Napa Valley wine industry reporter

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