From cult California to wine in a can, charity auctions boom

Where can you learn how to make the best enchiladas in the world, go for a training run with a celebrity chef, learn calculus - or snap up 36 cans of fine California rosé spritz?

Words by Adam Lechmere

The pandemic has altered every facet of our lives – and charity auctions in the food-and-drinks world are no different.

Charity auctions used to be concerned with the rarest of whiskies and the finest of wines from the world’s greatest terroirs, but the coronavirus crisis has caused a levelling in many different ways.


Main image: Lorenza California Rosé Spritz courtesy of WineBid.

The US non-profit group Wine Country for Restaurants, via its new hashtag Let’s #86LostWages, has teamed up with the auction site to launch a wine auction with donations from wineries and collectors. Proceeds go to the COVID-19 Relief Fund of the Restaurant Workers Community Foundation (if your cellar is full, you can donate directly to the RWCF here).

The star lots feature donations from the likes of Screaming Eagle (two magnums of the Oakville winery’s second wine, The Flight), and large-format bottles from such fellow Napa stalwarts as Staglin, Corison and Ovid, including a five-litre bottle of Saintsbury Brown Ranch Pinot Noir 2007. Then there are fine Burgundies – witness the three-bottle lot of Chambolle-Musigny Les Charmes 1er Cru 2015 from Domaine Rion.

Auction wines

But perhaps more intriguing are the wines to drink now – the 12-bottle mixed lot from Newfound Wines on California’s Central Coast, or the 36 cans and one bottle of California Rosé Spritz from Lorenza winery.

“This isn’t your typical wine auction,” spokeswoman Michelle Lipa told Club Oenologique. “The first auction will start on April 5th at 7:15 pm PST and will run for one week with subsequent weekly auctions lasting as long as we have lots to sell.” All details can be found here.

Meanwhile, recent auctions run by two New York restaurants in aid of their staff were equally varied in their offerings. Almost all the three-Michelin-star Eleven Madison Park’s lots at its online auction organised by GiveSmart were aimed squarely at the luxury end of the market, and to be redeemed when the restaurant – and city – is back up and running. A wine tasting with the restaurant’s wine director went for $10,000, a dinner cooked at your home by chef Daniel Humm for $50,000, or an evening watching service in the kitchen for $6,000.

But then there was the chance to go running in Central Park with Humm, for $5,000. “He’d love to take you out for a weekend afternoon training session this fall, in advance of the NY Marathon,” read the description.

Lynnette Marrero
Lynnette Marrero (image by Matt Dutile)

The New York-based Japanese-Peruvian group Llama San and Llama Inn sold some equally unorthodox lots, raising $35,950.00 at its recent auction.

Sisters Bernadina and Catalina, for example, “make the BEST enchiladas that you EVER had” – their masterclass went for $500. Llama Inn beverage director Lynnette Marrero’s cocktail masterclass went for $1,100. The only unsold lot? The chance to learn Calculus with maths master Peter Ellison which, at $750, had no takers.

Finally, spirits lovers looking for a special bottle should head for the ongoing auction at Whisky.Auction: 470 fabulous whisky and wine lots sold in aid of the Drinks Trust – which is supporting staff in the hospitality trade affected by the Covid-19 downturn – including seven-bottle collections of the Spirit Of Scotland Trophy 500th Anniversary Blends donated by the IWSC. These are incredibly rare whiskies specially blended for the 500th anniversary of Scotch whisky in 1994. All details here.