Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Wine Auction to uncork

Sun Valley Center ready to fill the air with the smell of grapes

Express Staff Writer

Volunteer Dean Behse shows off a magnum of wine at the 2006 Sun Valley Wine Auction. Photo by Willy Cook

Colgin, DeVille, Dunham, Justin, Landmark, Schafer, Silver Oak, Ridge, Rombauer, Staglin, Vèritè. Do these names make your mouth water and your fingers itchy for a clean, glass stem? If so, you're either a connoisseur of Californian wines or you've carefully studied the invitation to the 26th annual Sun Valley Wine Auction, which will run Thursday through Saturday, July 19 through 21.

The wine auction is annually the pinnacle of the summer's headiest events, especially since the proceeds help keep the majority of The Center's programs free.

"The Sun Valley Center Wine Auction is the only fundraiser we do all year, and it provides more than half of our operating budget, including about $50,000 every year that is earmarked for scholarships for local students and teachers," said Sam Gappmayer, The Center's executive director. "The Center as we know it wouldn't exist without the Wine Auction and the year-round efforts of staff and volunteers who organize this incredibly complicated event."

The 2006 auction set a record in attendance and money raised at $1,345,000. More than 600 people attended the auction, 450 attended vintner dinners, 1,500 picnicked on the golf course, 1,500 sampled wines at the tasting, and 85 wineries participated. Some of the highlights of the auction included furious bidding over a hybrid Lexus that eventually went for $82,000, twice over, and the entertainment theatrics of the gala, which surpassed all expectations. In addition, it was ranked seventh last year among charity wine auctions by Wine Spectator magazine and raised more than $1 million for arts and cultural programs in the Wood River Valley.

From the private vintner dinners and the elegant Wine Auction to the sociable wine tasting and the glorious picnic at Big Wood Golf Course, the Sun Valley Wine Auction continues to be a heck of a party under the guise of a first-class event.

Aside from a conglomeration of high spirits at the actual auction, "There will be circus surprises under the big top that will amaze and surprise," said Dan Mankin, director of performing arts. "Prepare to be astounded."

Among the Hot Lots in the Live Auction is the world's first full V8 hybrid, a Lexus LS 600h L Luxury Sedan with all the bells and whistles. Other Hot Lots are a Double magnum 2003 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Staglin Family Vineyard and a 10-night voyage for four aboard The World, a 644-foot luxury vessel that travels to ports of call in Sweden, Greece, India or Madagascar. In addition there will be rare wines and travel packages to Spain and Italy and a Catch and Release Heli-Fishing Adventure in Nimmo Bay Resort in British Columbia for six.

Two of the live auction items will bring Sun Valley into the mix: A Year in Sun Valley for Play includes passes and memberships to the sporting action as well as training sessions gift certificates. A Year in Sun Valley for Intellectuals includes tickets and passes to the 2008 Wine Auction, theatrics, the Sun Valley Summer Symphony, Sun Valley Writers' Conference and more.

By Saturday, the big spenders will take a break to pick up their goods and slap each other on the back a bit more, and regular folk can try out some of the good stuff at the tasting held under the tent at River Run. Attendees can sample wines from more than 125 vintners and bring home a souvenir Riedel glass. For only $35, this is a dandy way to participate in the fun and find some new favorites.

The great California band, Mumbo Gumbo, will be entertaining at the picnic on Saturday, which is being catered by Duane Runswick of Feast catering with guest chef Michael Marlin. Alas, this event is sold out.

For more information and tickets go to

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