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Our view: A continuing tradition of giving

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For decades, when Napa County was in need, the Napa Valley Vintners have stepped up to help.

The most famous and obvious example was after the 2014 earthquake. Within days, the Napa Valley Community Foundation found itself entrusted with $10 million in relief money thanks to quick, decisive action by the Vintners.

But for 40 years, NVV has helped in numerous smaller ways, from a few tens of thousands for a small non-profit to major gifts, such as $4 million to fund new Boys & Girls Club facilities in Calistoga and American Canyon, and $2.5 million for the Napa Valley Vine Trail.

In all, NVV has donated around $200 million to various non-profits and initiatives in Napa County. They estimate that programs funded by their foundation touch the lives of about 100,000 people, or more than two thirds of the population of Napa County, every year. Looking at the broad array of programs their money funds, this seems like a reasonable estimate.

The vehicle for this remarkable philanthropic effort has been Auction Napa Valley. Established in 1981, the Auction evolved into the premier social event of the year, drawing people from all over the world to bid on rare wines and even rarer trips and experiences.

But over the years, Auction Napa Valley became, in a sense, a victim of its own success.

It was widely imitated in ways great and small, such that it is possible to attend a wine auction of some kind virtually every weekend in wine country and beyond. The Auction itself, meanwhile, grew ever bigger and more extravagant, with auction lots soaring past $1 million, placing them beyond the reach even of those who consider themselves well off.

It was clear that the Napa Valley Vintners were considering shaking up the formula even before the pandemic hit. COVID forced the cancellation of the 2020 edition of the auction. The partial destruction of Meadowood resort, the traditional venue for the Auction, in the 2020 Glass Fire further put the event in a kind of limbo.

The NVV subsequently made the brave decision to end the Auction as we knew it. It will be replaced by a series of smaller fundraising events and initiatives throughout the year. The exact shape of the program is still evolving, but it will clearly involve some of the smaller elements of the previous Auction Napa Valley, including the popular, and more modest, Barrel Auction that had preceded the main Auction in recent years.

The new fundraising program is known as Collective Napa Valley, and its first major live event will be the first weekend in June of 2022, the weekend traditionally occupied by Auction Napa Valley.

We commend the Napa Valley Vintners for seeking new and innovative ways to raise funds for the community, and to think smaller, with events scaled to allow more people to be involved in philanthropic giving.

Equally worthy of note is the fact that the Napa Valley Vintners have continued to give to the community even in two years when there was no money coming in from Auction Napa Valley. The organization has committed to give $15 million over three years while they seek to establish Collective Napa Valley as a worthy replacement for Auction Napa Valley.

This year alone, the organization is donating $5.9 million to non-profits working in three areas: mental and physical health; family assistance and resilience; and closing the “opportunity gap” for youths from disadvantaged communities. These donations range from $60,000 for Girls on the Run, which empowers young women, to $600,000 for OLE Health, which has been an important vehicle for NVV’s giving. It has received about $45 million over the years and has grown to be the health care provider for about 25,000 county residents annually.

We are grateful to the Napa Valley Vintners for their continued generosity and commitment to helping the community even at a time when they are unable to replenish their charitable fund. This speaks strongly of their commitment to being a long-term and sustainable backer of worthy projects in the community.

We also look forward to learning more as Collective Napa Valley grows and develops. The organization tells us they will have opportunities for locals and small donors to get in on the action and be part of this important philanthropic project. We encourage all of you who are financially able to do so to support the Vintners’ efforts.

Early signups to be involved start Dec. 1. We encourage you to visit napavalley.wine for details as the program rolls out.

Editor's note: This item has been modified to correct the amount OLE Health has received from the Vintners over the years.

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The Napa Valley Register Editorial Board consists of Editor Sean Scully, and public members Cindy Webber, Ed Shenk, Mary Jean Mclaughlin and Chris Hammaker.

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