Together Again in Napa Valley

Together Again in Napa Valley

This year’s annual benefit hosted by Collective Napa Valley recognizes the trials of living and working under COVID-19, as well as the challenges youth face in the revered California winemaking region.
This year’s annual benefit hosted by Collective Napa Valley recognizes the trials of living and working under COVID-19, as well as the challenges youth face in the revered California winemaking region.

E very year, the Napa Valley Vintners – an organization supporting over 550 wineries – hosts a number of charity events through Collective Napa Valley that benefit the storied California region’s local community. In 2020, the beloved benefit auction was canceled due to COVID, returning only this year with the theme “Together Again.” Co-chairs David Duncan, the family-owner of Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars, and Beth Novak Milliken, the second-generation steward of Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, stress the strength of their common bond forged over decades putting the unique region on the world map – and how eager the Valley is to return to sharing the fruits of its labor at a common table.


But “Together Again” speaks to more than just a carefree evening spent in the shade of grape vines. Napa Valley, like many American communities, suffers from high rates of depression among youth. Crucially, the proceeds from all 10 lots from the live auction will benefit programs and wellness centers supporting mental health and education for young people in Napa County.

For the second year, Sotheby’s is honored to power Collective Napa Valley’s essential work in the region. Beginning this year, I’m pleased to join them as the auctioneer who will oversee the highly anticipated annual headline event. In advance of the two-day celebration, I spoke with Duncan and Novak Milliken about their work in Napa Valley and everything they – and we – can do to support.

This is Sotheby’s second time powering Collective Napa Valley’s auctions in the region, and my first year working with the organization. I’m so excited to be speaking with our two co-chairs, Beth Novak Milliken and David Duncan, about the Together Again auction on Saturday, 3 June 2023. As the name indicates, it’s all about that strong spirit of community. I’d love to get a little more background on Collective Napa Valley. How did it start and what is its mission?

David Duncan
Collective Napa Valley was born out of the community, and it supports the people who live in Napa County, where these world-class wines are grown. It supports our healthcare, the Vine Trail infrastructure, the farmworker housing – all these critical things. The charitable giving dates back more than 40 years to the first auction in 1981.

And then, of course, COVID happened, and we couldn’t be together for a couple years. This is the first live auction that we’ve pulled together since 2019, and we’re excited to bring it back. It’ll be just a wonderful event, having everyone back to continue this tradition and raise money for the community.

A lot offered by Cakebread Cellars includes 9 bottles of wine, 2 VIP tickets to Live In the Vineyard, 2 tickets to the vineyard’s 50th-Anniversary Celebration and 4 Nights’ accommodations at Bardessono Napa Valley Spa Resort (pictured)

There’s something quite poignant about this being the first event since the pandemic.

David Duncan
We have done some smaller events, including the Barrel Auction last year, but we were missing the live auction and the energy and the irrational generosity that comes along with that. The point of Together Again is to think about community. The Novak family and the Duncan family have been friends since the 1940s, when our dads met. Beth and I have known each other our whole lives.

Beth Novak Milliken
As vintners, we work collaboratively together. In many industries people are competing against each other. And sure, in some sense we’re competitors, but we all come together because we care so deeply about Napa Valley. Now we’re excited to have a nice time in our most down-to-earth way with great food by chef Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill – a very authentic restaurant that’s true to who we are – and some truly excellent wines. The long family table filled with Cindy’s food is going to set that tone as people arrive. It’s going to feel like the Napa Valley that I’ve loved since my family moved there in 1972.

“I always liken it to Paris in the 1920s with all those artists and writers hanging out, comparing notes. … It allows room for a lot of excellence.”
- David Duncan

How will the funds we raise support the community?

Beth Novak Milliken
People might not know that there’s a lot of need in Napa Valley. The funds raised from this year’s event will benefit the youth. COVID highlighted a real need for educational help and mental-health support for young people. We know how hard it is for young people to catch up or get the opportunities they need to be successful. So the funds will support children of all ages – from early education up through high school students. They will help kids arrive in kindergarten prepared for their education, as well as junior high schoolers and high school get assistance with schoolwork or access to mental-health programs.

Our planet feels off-kilter sometimes. We’re trying to protect our democracy and face climate change. It’s a time when people are preoccupied with lots of issues, and it’s wonderful to be able to help with at least one. We have a unique opportunity to raise funds extremely well because of this industry that we’re in, and I feel very fortunate to be able to do that.

Yes, it’s such a fantastic cause. A lot of people have mentioned this term “irrational generosity” that David used earlier. It seems to be a bit of a buzzword for the organization.

David Duncan
I first heard it in 2014 from Garen Staglin [co-proprietor of Staglin Family Vineyard].

Beth Novak Milliken
I think Garen Staglin coined that term in 2013, a year when we did a lot of traveling. I love it because it’s a way of expressing more than just the value of a lot – it’s about going above and beyond and being extremely generous. He’ll be in the audience the day of our live auction. The Staglin Family Vineyard is offering an 8-day luxury trip to South Africa and I hope people will be irrationally generous with their bidding.

Sotheby’s Jacqueline Towers-Perkins will host the live auction on 3 June.

It’s a great phrase; I’m going to use it at every charity auction from now on (laughter). Let’s talk about the fabulous program of events, which includes a dinner, activities at various wineries, the Barrel Auction and the big event itself on Saturday, 3 June, at Silver Oak, David’s vineyard. The Barrel Auction is something very unique. Beth, can you tell me about that?

Beth Novak Milliken
There are only two places where something like this happens: Hospices de Beaune and Napa Valley. Here we have an auction with barrels in the room, winemakers sharing wines out of the barrel and people buying something that they’re not going to take delivery of until it’s bottled a year or two later. It’s a personal experience, and that’s what we do best.

And how about the live auction? There are some once-in-a-lifetime opportunities there that people should go explore. Tell me about the two fantastic lots that both of you have donated.

Beth Novak Milliken
The lot we’re offering from Spottswoode Estate really goes back to the goal of bringing people together. It includes 10 nights’ accommodations, starting with tickets to the spring festival BottleRock 2024 and ending with next year’s auction. David is also involved in our lot, because he’ll be offering a tour up at Ovid as part of the package, as will Samantha Rudd, who’s offering a tour of Rudd Estate. BottleRock really kicked in – they gave accommodations downtown plus 4 platinum passes to this amazing musical event.

Tickets to the music festival BottleRock (left) and a private concert at Gargiulo Vineyards (right) are among the 10 lots on offer.

You’ve taken an enormous amount of care to create a well-rounded package with so many different collaborators. David, what are you offering?

David Duncan
What makes every lot stand apart is the people. You know, you get to hang out with Beth Novak and the Staglins! Who wouldn’t want to do that? Our lot is a private concert at the Gargiulo property, right down the road from Silver Oak. Jeff Gargiulo has the most beautiful setup for live music in the entire valley. We’re offering a concert under a giant oak tree featuring top singer-songwriters from Nashville. I can’t say who exactly, except that the more money we raise, the more Top 40 hits they’ll have. It’ll be a fantastic evening – wine, food and music belong together like sunshine and a summer day.

“Irrational generosity is a way of expressing more than just the value of a lot – it’s about going above and beyond and being extremely generous.”
- Beth Novak Milliken

There’s such a wide range of experiences across this lovely wine weekend, both for experienced connoisseurs and wine novices such as myself.

David Duncan
Oh, we’re very welcoming. Come one, come all, and drink what you like.

Beth Novak Milliken
Napa Valley is such a beautiful place and people love to visit. This year we’re also doing the auctions online, and the idea is to broaden our community. That international Sotheby’s audience surely knows our wines, but they’ve maybe never traveled to the region. We want to give people a sense of what it’s like – to invite you to come and really experience what we have to offer.

David Duncan
There are more than 500 vintners making art in this beautiful, incredible place where we live and get to grow our grapes. I always liken it to Paris in the 1920s with all those artists and writers hanging out, comparing notes. Of course we’re all technically trying to sell our own wines, but our interpretations are very, very different. It allows room for a lot of excellence – as well as friendships among the vintners.

It’s truly a special moment. I’m a forward-thinking person, but when I think about how the valley has been affected by COVID – and how it’s facing the educational and mental-health issues we’re addressing – one of the best things I think we can do is bring back that critical spirit of community that’s been so impactful over the last 40 or 50 years.

Banner: Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery, Napa Valley

Wine Philanthropy

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