Now in its 30th year, the Auction of Washington Wines has, like the industry that supports it, transformed from a small-scale undertaking with an uncertain future to a fundraising behemoth aiming to gather more than $3.5 million in donations this year. A slew of events from August 17 to 19 will give wine lovers a chance to drink some seriously good wine while doing some serious good for Seattle Children’s Hospital and the viticulture and enology program at Washington State University.
Much of the action is on the Eastside, with both the winemaker picnic on Thursday 17th and the Gala on Saturday hosted by Chateau Ste. Michelle, as well as a fun-run through Woodinville earlier on Saturday. Private dinners are also hosted throughout the Seattle area on Friday, and they’re a sight to behold. I volunteered as a sommelier at one last year, an eye-opening experience in several ways. Many attendees had children who were receiving or had received care at Children’s; it was sobering that many of them had suffered an unimaginable tragedy. Yet they’d also all turned out to support a noble cause, hoping to spare future parents the grief they had experienced.
It’s a connection that ripples through the Washington wine industry as well. Jamie Brown, the winemaker at Waters Winery in Walla Walla, had his own experience with Children’s in the mid-’70s. “I couldn’t walk, I was crying in my sleep I was in so much pain,” he told me. “I was going through something that was scary, especially for my parents, but I don’t remember that stuff. I remember the personalized care, and the people who took care of me.” He understands how powerful the appeal of donating is, and how connected people feel to the cause and the wine. “There’s lots of like-minded people that get together to open their hearts and wallets,” he said. “The social aspect of wine is a big part of that; people tend to give more. Lots of people in the room have had that experience with cancer.”
There’s no doubt that some of the appeal lies in the wine; the event wouldn’t work without donations and time from winemakers like Brown. For some attendees, the cause might even be secondary. But as I stood there last year, hearing parents tell stories that nearly brought me to tears about the way that Seattle Children’s Hospital did everything it could for their child, and hearing the doctors and researchers working to combat these devastating illnesses … well, it made me question my career choice for a moment. Then I remembered my biology grades and that the next course was about to be served, and so I picked up a new bottle to pour.