Multiple auction paddles were raised at an elegant Opus One Winery dinner as part of Collective Napa Valley’s November 2022 event. Tickets to the $2500 per person weekend sold out quickly, as supporters from around the nation, as well as some international visitors, rushed to secure the limited seats. The weekend event, along with online bidding and donations during November, easily achieved the $2 million goal set to fund wildfire mitigation and reforestation. This amount is part of the $4.6 million that Collective Napa Valley has raised to support community efforts so far in 2022.
Many attendees were long time supporters of the 40 year Napa Valley Auction, which was re-imagined into Collective Napa Valley – a series of celebrations and fund-raising events throughout the year, rather than a single auction. The November event included vineyard visits for a ‘boots on the ground’ field trip to learn about fire mitigation efforts, a winery lunch, and then an elegant reception and 5-course dinner at Opus one.
“There are two beneficiaries for this event that will put the funds raised towards fire prevention, fire mitigation and reforestation,” stated Bart Araujo, Co-Chair of the Collective Napa Valley Vintage Celebration and proprietor of Accendo Cellars and Wheeler Farms. “The first is Napa Community Firewise Foundation, which will refurbish 100 miles of exiting and new firebreaks, and reduce the fuel load on forest floors under tree canopies. The second beneficiary is the Napa County Resource Conservation District, a public-private partnership that will oversee reforestation of burned landscapes using appropriate replacement trees including native oaks, which are far better at withstanding the effects of wildfires than native conifers.”
How the Fire Mitigation and Reforestation Process Works
During the 2017 and the 2020 wildfire events, Napa Valley lost thousands of acres to the flames. The Tubbs fire destroyed more than 36,000 acres and more than 5,000 structures. The deadly Glass Fire of 2020 scorched 67,000 acres and devoured numerous winery structures, as well as the Meadowood Resort and many other buildings. Newton, Cain, Chateau Boswell, and other wineries burned to the ground, and countless Napa Valley wineries were not able to produce wine in 2020 due to wildfire damage and smoke taint.
“We need to accept that wildfires are part of global warming,” explained Araujo. “So now we need to focus on cleaning up from the past ones and getting ready for any future fires. The fire mitigation and reforestation efforts will help with this.”
Erick Hernandez, a Code Compliance Offer II with The Napa County Fire Department, described the type of work that Napa Fire Wise did with the funding. “We strategize where to implement ‘shaded fuel brakes, which is a swatch of vegetation removal (usually in the forest) that can reduce the intensity of fires and allow firefighters to access an area more quickly. The second part of our strategy,” he continued, “is to build dozer lines. This means using a bulldozer to dig holes all along the top of a ridge. The benefit is that there is less fuel for the fire and therefore it helps to slow it down and give access to our air tankers and helicopters. Dozer lines buy us time.”
Dawnine Dyer, winemaker at Dwyer Vineyards and Chair of the NVV’s
Boots on the Ground at Newton Winery
The vineyard field trip – called ‘Boots on the Ground’ was held at three of the vineyards that had been impacted by wildfires: Newton, Chappellet Vineyard and To Kalon Vineyard at Robert Mondavi Winery. Guests could select which one to visit for an opportunity to witness destruction from previous fires and learn about mitigation efforts under way.
At Newton Winery, Anne Dempsey, Operations and EHS Director, described their situation. “Of our original 75 acres of vineyard, only 5 acres survived the 2020 fire. Fortunately all of our employees were saved.” She gestured to the fire ravaged hillsides that still showed charred trees on the ground with some shrubs slowly growing back. “Our first job,” she continued, “is to clean up everything, and the second is to maintain it.”
To date Newton has managed to replant 5 vineyard acres, with a focus on drought tolerant rootstock. They have also cleaned up some of the brush on hillsides, and the native oak trees have leafed out again. “We’ve learned a lesson,” said Dempsey. “We are now focusing on biodiversity, creating healthy forests and irrigation ponds, using goats to keep down grasses, and re-planting our organic vineyards. This is a new chapter at Newton.”
At the casual Newton lunch held outdoors under a large tent, guests dined on fresh organic vegetables, cheeses, salads, and grilled tri-tip, while sampling different Napa Valley wines. Annette and Sundar Subbaroyan, two guests who attended the event from Iowa, explained why they decided to support the Collective Napa Valley cause.
“We have been coming to Napa Valley for the past 25 years,” said Sundar Subbaroyan, “and 90% of the wine we drink at home in Iowa is from Napa Valley. This has been very informative to learn about what they have done here to clean up under the oak trees and replant the vineyards. My wife and I like to attend, because we want to support the Napa Valley community.”
“We got married here in Napa Valley,” said Annette Subbaroyan. “This valley means a lot to us, and we enjoy attending the auction events every year.”
Jaime Araujo, daughter of Bart and Daphne Araujo, and Director of Connections & Strategy at Trois Noix Wine, shared some of her Trois Noix Sauvignon Blanc wine with guests, and added to the conversation. “We are all interconnected in Napa Valley on a physical level. I live near Newton Winery and the wildfire came very close to my house. It then impacted our schools, restaurants and other businesses. We are all part of this process.”
The Opus One Celebration Dinner and Napa Interconnectedness
At the elegant Opus One Winery event, guests were greeted with a glass of 2010 J. Schram sparkling wine, a classical quartet, and delectable appetizers, such as oysters and lobster on the shell, shrimp, crab, clams, mussels, baked sun chokes and pumpkin skewers in a cheesy fondue, served in a large pumpkin half.
Once in the dining room, guests were treated to a variety of famous Napa Valley wines, including a magnum of 2013 Opus One at each 10-person table. The 5-course menu, created by Michelin-starred chef, Christopher Kostow, included: caviar with turnip custard, quail stuffed with abalone and pork, beef filet with black truffle and kimchee, Brillat-Savarin, and a platter of small elegant desserts.
During dinner, five mystery magnum of historic Napa Valley wines were auctioned off – each selling for $10,000 to $14,000. Winning bidders were urged to open the bottle and share it with others at their table. At the conclusion of dinner, the auction commenced with inspiring speeches from Bart and Daphne Araujo, auction co-chairs, as well as a moving video on the wildfire impact and mitigation efforts.
“It is important to remember,” said Bart Araujo, “that wildfires don’t only hurt wineries, but hospitals have to be evacuated, schools have to be closed, and hotels, restaurants, and other establishments lose business. It impacts everyone. For lovers of this community this is a special place and I want people to look back and say they had a part in saving our community.”
Auction attendee, Richard Young from New York, agreed. “This is my first time to attend the Napa Valley auction event,” he said. “I’m here because I enjoy celebrating the vintage and honoring the vintners who make the wine. Plus I get to contribute to a good cause. Napa Valley is a special place that people from all over the world come to visit.”
Wine enthusiasts are invited to take part in Collective Napa Valley. Membership is complimentary, and is a good way to learn about future celebrations and fundraising activities.