This Saturday, when Santa Barbara County’s wine industry gathers in black ties and ball gowns at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara for the biennial Santa Barbara Wine Auction, there will be a lot more to toast than just the region’s growth and critical acclaim.
As usual, the 11th gala will be raising money for Direct Relief, the Goleta-based international aid association. But it will be the first time that the vintners raise their paddles to support their own workforce, as the Community Health Centers of the Central Coast (CHC) will also benefit from this year’s fundraiser.
“I had never heard of the CHC before, so I went and found a mobile unit in Los Alamos, knocked on the door, and talked to the doctor on-site that day,” explained Story of Soil winemaker Jessica Gasca, the president of the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation, which is the charitable arm of the marketing-focused Santa Barbara County Vintners Association. “They have the capability to drive their mobile health units from vineyard to vineyard and give our workers health care, which is amazing.”
Founded in Nipomo in 1978, the CHC serves northern Santa Barbara County and San Luis Obispo County through about 30 clinics, both mobile and brick-and-mortar, that handle nearly half a million visits a year. Seeing this as the perfect opportunity to share the vintners’ considerable money-raising abilities within the county, Gasca took it to the board, which wholeheartedly supported the idea. In line with this move is the gala’s honoring of the Stolpman family, who have led the charge in elevating vineyard crews to being fully employed, actively engaged members of their winery’s team.
It turns out that the auction, which was started in 2000 and is being hosted this year by actor Billy Baldwin, proved critical to the rise of Direct Relief. “Twenty years ago, when this wine auction first happened, Direct Relief was struggling,” explained Gasca. “This wine auction was one of the reasons that Direct Relief was able to keep the doors open. That’s a pretty remarkable beginning for us.”
Over the years, especially following Hurricane Katrina in 2005 and the 1/9 Debris Flow of 2018 in Montecito, the Vintners Foundation encouraged Direct Relief to focus resources domestically and locally rather than just internationally, as had been the initial charge.
“Support from the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation over the last two decades has been a powerful catalyst to sustain and expand Direct Relief’s humanitarian health assistance for people in need,” writes Direct Relief’s leader, Thomas Tighe, in a letter to gala attendees. “Among other things, the Vintners Foundation’s support and encouragement helped launch and expand Direct Relief’s U.S. program. Initially a very localized effort in Santa Barbara County, it’s now the country’s largest charitable medicines program serving thousands of people in need each month through a network of over 1,400 nonprofit health centers and clinics in all 50 states.”
This year’s gala is also connecting Direct Relief more directly to the CHC. “The cherry on the top is that we’re checking the box for vintners who want to give back locally, we’re still supporting Direct Relief, and they are partnering with the CHC to provide medicines, vaccines, and all the things they need,” she explained. “The three of us have come together to do even bigger and better things locally. It’s really exciting.”
See sbwineauction.org for tickets and more information.