Like everything else, fundraisers in the era of COVID-19 must reinvent their playbooks. For Taste of the Vine, which would have been the 18th annual benefit for the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute this August, the plan is to host an “[UN]Event.” 

Orcutt, California; Wes Hagen

Instead of trying to salvage any semblance of entertainment or connection through digital means, the organizers are simply asking supporters to buy $150 tickets, perhaps with all that money you saved on babysitters, transportation, and a new outfit. Those who do will be rewarded with a great bottle of Santa Barbara County wine in return, to enjoy at home on August 15 in whatever clothes you choose. Participating wineries include Chanin, Paul Lato, Grimm’s Bluff, GoGi, Jaffurs, Melville, A Tribute to Grace, J. Wilkes, Grassini, Foxen, Lindquist, Verdad, and Lucas & Lewellen. For those seeking to throw more weight into the research, sponsorship donations from $500 to $15,000 open the doors to full meals from Duo Catering, produce boxes from Talley Farms, and special experiences with winemakers. 

One such winemaker is Wes Hagen, who ran Clos Pepe for many years before joining the Miller Family Wine Company to oversee the J. Wilkes label and serve as a brand ambassador. Always the educator and entertainer, Hagen is even more well-known during the pandemic, as he’s hosted a regular “Day Drinking with Wes Hagen” streaming show every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday at 5 p.m. (See 

What many don’t know is that he was recently diagnosed with diabetes, which is one reason he’s throwing support to Taste of the Vine’s [UN]Event. He tells us more here. 

When were you diagnosed with diabetes? 

I was diagnosed with Late Onset Type 1 (LADA) just days before my 50th birthday. It was a crushing diagnosis but also got me thinking about my health and habits. My brother Rob developed T1 Juvenile Diabetes at age 9. I was jealous of the attention and presents, not so much jealous of the diet and maintenance.

What’s LADA?

Latent autoimmune diabetes in adults (LADA) is a slow-progressing form of autoimmune diabetes. It occurs because your pancreas stops producing adequate insulin, most likely from some “insult” that slowly damages the insulin-producing cells in the pancreas.

Does it have any connection to wine consumption? 

I certainly doubt it. I’ve been a light drinker for most of my life, which has become slightly more regimented since my diagnosis. I still drink some red wine every day, but my doctor suggested no more than two glasses.

What do you know about Sansum? 

It’s one of the most established diabetes research centers in the U.S. The William Sansum Diabetes Center was founded in 1944, and the story goes back to when Sansum isolated and administered insulin for the first time in the U.S. in 1922. Before that moment, T1 diabetes was a death sentence. For a disease that is infamous for misdiagnosis, poor treatment, and doctors who are woefully inadequate in their training and treatment suggestions, we are very lucky to live in such close proximity to a world-leading research institution.

Why is now a critical time to support their work? 

I am far more likely to perish from COVID than a healthy citizen. A close colleague lost her healthy 72-year-old father in March in SoCal, so we’ve been strongly preventative in our activities: masking and sequestering very early, by March 11. Of course, I have always been supportive of diabetic research, as my older brother Rob has been a diabetic for almost 50 years, and I have seen his struggles, successes, hospitalizations, and the technology he has used over the years. T2 diabetes is also threatening our public health like never before. Encouraging Americans to consider diet and exercise for better health is also something I strongly suggest, and advice that I follow myself.

What wine are you donating? 

We’ve sent down cases of J. Wilkes pinot blanc and pinot noir, and we hope to be chosen to do a remote event as well to taste and discuss those wines. There will be great opportunities for wine lovers and professionals to get together over the internet and learn and enjoy together.

Buy tickets and see sponsorship opportunities for the August 15 Taste of the Vine [UN]Event at


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