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Wine: Drinking To Good Health

Brett Anderson

Wine and generosity of spirit go well together, as Auction Napa Valley’s barrel tasting, held this past June at the Trinchero Family Estates winery, has demonstrated. There, well-groomed gentlemen and ladies of refinement entered the winery, nonchalantly bearing their empty Riedel vessels; hours later, they emerged into the glare of sunlight somewhat unsteady, somewhat disheveled, but very content, as their purple-stained smiles attested. Many also surfaced somewhat poorer in pocket, though richer in heart, having contributed $1.1 million in donations to the weekend’s $10.5 million total by purchasing barrel lots from producers such as Shafer Vineyards, Pride Mountain Vineyards, and Frank Family Vineyards.

A large portion of this sum came from the sale of a barrel of 2003 Staglin Family Cabernet Sauvignon, which set an all-time record for barrel lots at the 25-year-old auction when it sold for $221,000. Neither record-making bids nor charitable endeavors, however, are outside the norm for vintners Shari and Garen Staglin, whose personal motto always has been “Good food, good wine, and good causes.” At the 2005 Naples Winter Wine Festival in February, the couple raised $110,000 for children’s charities from a lot consisting of one six-liter bottle and two magnums of their outstanding 1997 Cabernet Sauvignon, and four patron tickets to their Music Festival for Mental Health, held each year during harvest at their 62-acre vineyard estate in Napa Valley’s Rutherford district. The Music Festival—a glittering evening that indulges all five senses—unites their three passions under a fourth: family.

The festival has raised $25 million in the past decade for mental health charities and research—the good cause that hits closest to home for the Staglins and their two children, son Brandon and daughter Shannon. Brandon was diagnosed with schizophrenia as a freshman at Dartmouth in 1990, and the ensuing struggle to cope with the harsh realities of his illness and the social stigma it carried inspired the family to employ their love of fine wine, food, and music as a platform for not only increasing awareness of mental illness, but also funding research into its treatment and cure.

“People come to enjoy themselves,” says Shari, “but they also learn something about this type of disease. So many [mentally ill] people go untreated because of discrimination or a lack of awareness that there is help and hope out there.”

The festival begins with a symposium hosted by an expert in the mental health field, and the Staglins admit to being surprised at how engaged guests become in these discussions, which cover topics ranging from genomic research to popular misconceptions about mental diseases. Despite its serious intent, the family works to ensure that the festival remains, as Shari says, “a celebration of life.”

“We transform the gardens and our home,” explains Garen. “Guests are welcomed into our caves to taste our wines, along with other cult wines from Napa. We invite world-class musicians of every type; we bring in master chefs. The whole event has its own energy and magic.”

This year’s event, which takes place on September 10, will begin with a seminar on brain science by Dr. Daniel Weinberger of the National Institute of Mental Health. This free lecture will be followed by a tasting in the caves (tickets are $300 for the reception and concert) of rare and varied wines from Colgin Cellars, Harlan Estate, Pahlmeyer, Screaming Eagle, and dozens of others. Donna Scala of Napa’s Bistro Don Giovanni will cater the reception, and the main event will feature recording legend Roberta Flack performing for the festival’s 400 guests. Following the concert, 200 guests will convene for a dinner prepared by Rick Tramonto of Chicago’s Tru Restaurant (patron tickets for the reception, concert, and dinner are $2,500).

A midnight swim in the Staglin pool has become an informal tradition among the dinner guests. “People started offering $5,000 donations to their friends if they’d jump into the pool,” says Garen. “We had 30 people do it the first year. We raised $1.92 million. Now we have guests who do laps for donations.” And so, with the festival, the Staglins have added to their program of good food, good wine, and good causes the element of great fun.

Held during harvest at the 62-acre Staglin estate, the Music Festival for Mental Health has raised $25 million in the past decade.

Staglin Family Vineyard
707.944.0477
www.staglinfamily.com

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