5 Questions with Classic Wines Auction's Heather Martin

CWA's Executive Director shares her take on the last three decades of charitable drinking, and what's in store for the next thirty years.

By Allison Jones February 27, 2013

Classic Wines Auction's Executive Director Heather Martin.

Next year, Oregon's Classic Wines Auction will celebrate its 30th anniversary of charitable giving and vino collaboration. Even before that milestone, this Friday's dinner aims to shatter attendance and fundraising records at the largest annual fundraiser in Oregon.

To get the scoop on this week's 29th annual dinner and future plans for the big 3-0, I sat down with CWA's executive director Heather Martin:

1. How has CWA changed over the past 29 years?

The Classic Wines Auction became an independent non-profit (branching off from the founding organization Metropolitan Family Service) in 2004 and now benefits 5 charity partners instead of just one. The fundraising success has changed—the event went from raising $9,000 in 1982 to a record high of $3 million in 2008. The number of attendees has grown from less than 100 to more than 900, and the events have expanded in size and scope, especially the winemaker dinners: we expanded from 10-12 dinners on one night to almost 45 dinners over 3 weeks.

2. What was served at the early CWA dinners?

Some of the first events didn’t serve dinner; they provided a “tasting menu” to accompany various tasting wines. In 1987, the tasting menu featured sliced fresh fruit, domestic and imported cheeses, assorted patés, wheels of Brie en Croute, sliced French bread, and deviled eggs. We've come a long way!

3. Tell me a bit about the culinary donations for this year's dinner.

Large food donations from local, sustainable partners not only further the promotion of local products but provide a huge cost savings — ultimately increasing the final amount that will be donated to charity. This year we will be featuring Oregon Dungeness Crab donated by the Oregon Dungeness Crab Commission and Lostine Cattle Company’s Short Ribs donated by Figgins Family Wine Estates. The Figgins Family created Leonetti Cellar and the newly launched FIGGINS label, and developed Lostine Cattle Company by applying their sustainable estate-growing practices to raise natural grass-fed beef.

4. How is CWA working to engage the next generation of local philanthropists?

This year, we created a tasting event called “Urban Classic” held at the SE Wine Collective. For $50 per person, guests enjoyed wines from the four member wineries of the Collective, plus nibbles from Wafu, Ava Gene’s, Woodsman Tavern, Nuestra Cocina and Salt & Straw. That event is a different format and price point than our winemaker dinners ($150 per person) or the Auction ($750 per person), to introduce new wine lovers into the CWA family.

5. What are your goals for CWA in the NEXT 30 years?

Like many nonprofit organizations, we are faced with questions about growth, sustainability, rising costs, changing revenues, and increased needs in the community. For Classic Wines Auction, however, I hope in the next 30 years we can continue to expand our fundraising model and increase growth without impacting our current efficiencies and partnerships. And in 30 years, I hope I can come back and enjoy the event… as a guest!

Proceeds from the Classic Wines Auction's food and wine gatherings benefit Metropolitan Family Service, New Avenues for Youth, Friends of the Children Portland and YWCA Clark County, and a new beneficiary for 2013, Randall Children’s Hospital at Legacy Emanuel. For more information, head over to the Classic Wines Auction website.

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