The Chesapeake Wine Classic Foundation’s annual Grand Auction is a charity event nonpareil

There are scores of wonderful charities around, and most have galas or fundraising events that raise sizeable amounts of money for extremely worthy causes. I have been to more than a few of them—and none more impressive than Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic Foundation’s annual Grand Auction, held most recently on November 13 in Virginia Beach. This year’s auction marked the 20th anniversary of an event that has to be the premier charity fete in the state—and is said to be the biggest and most successful wine auction in the mid-Atlantic region. That is worth a toast.

How big is the Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic Foundation Grand Auction? Well, 720 people attended this year’s event, which was held, as it is every year, on the sprawling front lawn of Robert M. and Eleanor Stanton’s home, which is wedged beautifully between the exclusive Bayville Golf Club and stunning marshland on the Lynnhaven River. Over the course a glorious afternoon, the crowd bid on more than 350 wine and wine-related travel lots, comprising more than 2,000 bottles of vino—most of it donated by wineries (including many from the west coast), distributors, individuals and sundry sponsors—and all of it exceptional.

According to Michael Glassman, a retired attorney who has been president of the Chesapeake Bay Wine Foundation for two years, this year’s Grand Auction generated about $435,000 in revenues. Throw in money donated by sponsors (and this event has scores of them), ticket sales and a Vintner of the Year dinner the night before and Glassman says the total gross this year was about $710,000. “We’re very pleased,” he told me. “It is among our best results to date—and in the context of today’s economy it demonstrates the affection people have for the event.”

And why shouldn’t they? The CBWCF supports a number of worthwhile organizations in Hampton Roads—Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters, Eastern Virginia Medical School, Horizons Hampton Roads, I Need a Lighthouse Foundation, Seton Youth Shelters, St. Mary’s Home for Disabled Children, among others—but the lion’s share of the revenues goes to the ACCESS Foundation, which through offering scholarships, securing scholarships, counseling, SAT preparation and other efforts has helped some 70,000 students obtain higher education over the last 22 years.

And if the charitable aspect of the event weren’t enough, the Grand Auction is one fine party. For starters, the guests sipped champagne and premium wine under a massive white structure (think typical white party tent—but warehouse size) as they strolled around trying a splendid selection of food from seven outstanding Hampton Roads restaurants—among them, Sonoma Wine Bar & Bistro, Todd Jurich’s Bistro, The Blue Point, Burton’s Grill, Cobalt Grille, Steinhilber’s Thalia Acres Inn, along with Distinctive Gourmet and Just Cupcakes—making bids on numerous wine lots at a silent auction and specialty wine lots in the so-called Collector’s Corner.

After that, the crowd settled at 76 tables—where the food and wine remained in abundance—and turned their attention to crackling live auction. There were two auctioneers, one of them Elyse Luray, an appraiser and one of the four hosts of the PBS show History Detectives. Several of the lots included wine from top American (west coast) and French vineyards. For example, five (750 ml) 1982 first growth Bordeaux (including two from Chateau Lafite Rothschild and another from Chateau Latour) fetched $4,500; three 2006 Cabs from Screaming Eagle Winery in the Napa Valley brought in $3,000; 1 magnum and two 750 ml bottles from Colgin Estate in Napa Valley (2004 reds) raised $6,500. In addition to the wine, several weekend excursions were part of the auction—along with a handful of cars.

Every year, to add some viticultural glamour to the event, the CBWCF brings in and honors the owners of a prestigious winery, who are dubbed the Vintners of the Year. They are toasted annually at a Vintner of the Year dinner the night before the Grand Auction. This year’s dinner was held at the lovely home of State Senator Jeffrey and Cindi McWaters (which was featured in Virginia Living two years ago). Fifty people attended the dinner—paying $1,000 each—and they were treated to some amazing food and even better wine from the guest vintners—Bart and Daphne Araujo, owners of Araujo Estate Wines, which is one of the Napa Valley’s half dozen or so “cult” or “super-cult” wineries, which are smaller estates that make a limited amount of a super-premium, very highly regarded wine. The Araujos offered a collection of their 2006 Eisele Cabernet Sauvignon to the live auction, along with a private tour of their vineyard and dinner for four at one of the favorite Napa Valley restaurants—and was the highest-selling, non-auto lot sale at the event at $11,000.

As with other cult wines (including Screaming Eagle, which is the equivalent of liquid gold nowadays in the wine industry, and Colgin), Araujo is not sold at retail or through wholesalers; you essentially must find a way to get on the winery’s mailing list to get it. Robert Parker has given some very high numbers to Araujo wine. Zoe’s Restaurant, led by Chef Jerry Weibrecht, provided food for the dinner—serving caviar and blini, shallots and chokecherry crème fraiche, lobster and duck spring rolls—at the reception, followed by six courses of scrumptious food, including ginger-infused maya shrimp, venison strip loin au poivre and slow braised Elk osso buco with truffle polenta—all paired with the exquisite Araujo wine. Zoe’s sommelier, Marc Sauter, who is on Araujo’s mailing list, was on hand to lend his expertise as well. Between courses five wine lots and one painting were auctioned off, raising $23,500 in about 15 minutes.

Bob Stanton, who is a developer, and his wife hatched the idea for a nice charity event in 1991. While on a business trip to Connecticut, Stanton saw a reference to a charity wine auction and that afternoon the Chesapeake Wine Auction Foundation was born. The first auction attracted 200 people and raised $11,000.

Glassman, who has been on the CBWCF board since 1994 and who acknowledges that wine and the Grand Auction are “my passion,” lauds the foundation’s Board of Governors for the event’s success. “They physically labored through the week prior to the auction …to ensure that every detail was perfect,” he told me. Some 45 volunteers moved thousands of wine bottles from temperature-controlled storage to the auction tent, where they were arranged into lots. Glassman adds: “Our volunteer talent pool includes accountants, doctors, lawyers, developers, restaurateurs, advertising consultants and many other business people who give up days of their lives to lift, move and arrange our displays.”

The CBWCF is particularly proud that the Grand Auction has captured the attention and support of the winemaking communities in Napa and Sonoma, California, Oregon and Washington states. Indeed, 22 west coast wineries participated in the event through wine donations and other support. Next year’s Vintner of the Year is already lined up—Bond Estates of the Napa Valley, which is the sister winery to the super-cult Harland Estate.

The Grand Auction is not the Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic Foundation’s only charity event. It also organizes an annual a Grand (wine) Tasting event (which was attended last year by more than 1,000 people) and a Wine, Women and Fishing tournament, which benefits Eastern Virginia Medical School and specifically breast-cancer research. Glassman says the Grand Tasting is being discontinued for a year “for various reasons” but the Hampton Roads love affair with exceptional wine and charity continues. As Glassman puts it, “Wine unites people, and especially when it is part of a very good cause.”

June 11, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
July 9, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum
August 13, 2022

Star Gazing and Laser Nights

Virginia Living Museum