Wine Working Wonders

Classic Wines Auction raises funds for five charities

By Tamara Belgard

Dressed to the nines, hundreds of guests gathered March 7 at the Oregon Convention Center for the 36th annual Classic Wines Auction Gala. The prestigious Portland event included hundreds of silent and super-silent auction items, tastings from top city chefs and 50-plus wineries from around the world, a multi-course dinner and impressive live auction lots. In all, the 2020 main event raised more than $2.3 million for five local nonprofits: Metropolitan Family Service, New Avenues for Youth, Friends of the Children, YWCA of Clark County and Unity Center for Behavioral Health. This years’ auction brings the total raised to more than $50 million over the past 36 years.

While perusing a multitude of unique auction items, attendees enjoyed a gourmet walk-around tasting from Portland chefs Althea Grey Potter, Sarah Shafer, Matthew Sigler, Sara Woods, Ryley Eckersley, Allan Wambaa and Joey Gibson, alongside a multitude of some of the world’s finest wines, both New and Old World.  The four-course dinner, prepared by acclaimed chefs Gabriel Rucker, Aaron Barnett and Sandra Arnerich, impressed with flavors, details and the sheer number of plates — 650 guests multiplied by four courses equals 2,600. The meal was paired with wines from honorary ambassadors from around the globe, including Krug Champagne, Ponzi Vineyards, Pepper Bridge Winery and Heitz Cellar.

The live auction, an action-packed, energetic extravaganza, provided guests opportunities to bid on lavish items such as a Mercedes-Benz G550 SUV donated by sponsors Mercedes-Benz of Portland and Beaverton; a collection of once-in-a-lifetime trips to Paris, the Rhône region and Burgundy, showcasing exclusive experiences with iconic winemakers; not to mention a one-of-a-kind opportunity to walk on stage with Lady Gaga.

Heather Martin, Classic Wines Auction executive director, was especially appreciative. “In light of the emerging coronavirus situation and corresponding market downturn, we were pleased that we were able to proceed with all events, with both good attendance and engaged audiences, resulting in more than $2.3 million raised. With your help, we are having a collective impact on key social issues in our community and changing the lives of over 50,000 children and families this year.”  

The Classic Wines Auction began small in the early 1980s, raising $9,000 at the initial gathering. In the 36 years since, the event’s become a year-long celebration of food and wine, benefitting more than one million individuals in the Portland community. In 2000, it became Oregon’s first charity auction to raise $1 million; in 2002, it was ranked No. 6 on Wine Spectator’s “Top 10 List of Charity Wine Auctions” nationally.

The auction has been chaired or co-chaired by almost 20 different individuals, changed locations and formats, added culinary and wine events, and has secured its place as a vehicle to help Portland support its community in a significant way.

The annual fundraising doesn’t stop with the gala. For those looking for a way to contribute, consider the upcoming “Spring Winemaker Dinner Series,” pairing top-rated chefs and premier winemakers from Oregon and beyond for dinners at select restaurants all over the city. 

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