Though Direct Relief might be the fifth-largest charity in the United States (according to Forbes Magazine), that doesn’t mean the Goleta-based nonprofit never endured lean times. In speaking about next weekend’s Santa Barbara Wine Auction, Direct Relief’s vice president Heather Bennett explained, “[Winemakers] Jim Clendenen and Frank Ostini started this connection between the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation and what was then Direct Relief International, and they helped us pay the bills when we really needed the support.”
That was way back in 2000, the year of the first Wine Auction. While the Vintners Foundation’s biennial gala continues to support Direct Relief’s internationally minded efforts two decades later, it now also directly helps the region’s farmworker community by benefiting Community Health Centers (CHC) of the Central Coast.
During the last auction in February 2020 — held just before COVID changed everything — the auction raised enough to cover nearly 40,000 vaccinations for farmworkers, which were delivered in the fields during the height of the pandemic. The funding further supports CHC’s everyday work, which included 493,000 medical visits at 43 different medical facilities in Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties in 2021 alone.
“I believe in our mission; I believe in bringing healthcare to our vineyard workers,” said Jessica Gasca, the owner of Story of Soil wines and the Vintners Foundation’s current president. “As a Latina winemaker, with a family that emigrated over from Mexico, I have an incredible amount of respect for the people working our land and tending to our grapes. Talk about hard work! They deserve to be acknowledged, and raising money for CHC to bring healthcare into our vineyards is one of the ways we can do it.”
Gasca’s leadership in adding the nonprofit as a beneficiary triggered an auxiliary benefit as well: the CHC is now Direct Relief’s official local beneficiary, tightening the globally impactful juggernaut’s ties to the community where it’s based.
The event’s evolution doesn’t stop there. While the event was once just a one-night black-tie soiree, the 2022 Wine Auction will be a two-day fundraiser.
The main event, as usual, is the swanky, wine-soaked dinner and live auction at the Ritz-Carlton Bacara on November 12. The gourmet meal will be overseen by Michelin-starred Chef Daisy Ryan — co-owner of Bell’s in Los Alamos and Bar Le Côte in Los Olivos — and guests can bid on packages like a dinner with pinot pioneer Richard Sanford at San Ysidro Ranch or tickets to an L.A. Rams game plus an exclusive tasting experience at The Hilt.
On November 11, however, those in town for the weekend — or hoping to get in on the action in less formal duds for fewer bucks — can support the causes by enjoying a new lunch series, with Friday events at Pico Restaurant (featuring Lumen Wines, of course), Presqu’ile, and SAMsARA. “The lunches are highlighting vintners and their craft and also highlighting some of the best farmers in our area,” Gasca explained. “They give you a chance to sit with winemakers and owners in an intimate experience and learn about farming, about this region, and about the dedicated people behind it all.”
The weekend will pay tribute to the 2022 Vintner Honoree: Grassini Family Vineyards. “I look at our honoree winery from last year, the Stolpman Family, and I look at the honoree winery for this year, the Grassini Family, and have so much respect for them,” Gasca said. “Here you have two wineries that are acknowledging the people that farm their land and give back within their own companies with a profit-sharing program. They are connecting these people to our mission of growing and making some of the best wines in the world and giving back to them, recognizing we couldn’t do this without them.”
Gasca urges prospective attendees to step up, have fun, and support the cause. “If we can make a more sustainable community, then all of this volunteer time was worth it,” she explained. “I’d do it more if I had the time.”