An idea forged over a dinner table at Château Mouton Rothschild during June's Vinexpo, has resulted in a charity that aims to rival the top annual wine auctions held in America.
Wine producers, merchants, publications and writers have pledged their support for the newly formed Grape Foundation and fund raising will kick off with a "Grape Big Heart" wine auction in London on October 25. It will form part of this year's London tasting organized by leading French wine critics Bettane + Desseauve.
"For every case of wine we produce as an industry, there is a child somewhere in the world without a smile, without a meal, without a mother or father, without love," says the foundation's manifesto. "This should never be."
Johanna Wilson, publisher of The World of Fine Wine, is a trustee of the charity and was at the Mouton Rothschild dinner where the genesis of the foundation was established.
"I was sat with Thierry Desseauve, Denis Lurton of Château Desmirail, Gil Lempert-Schwarz of Acker Merrall, and Neil Beckett, who is my editor," she recalled. "We started to have this conversation about what are they doing in the U.S. [with auctions], and how come we’re not doing anything similar in Europe, and then it just kind of grew."
She added: "We've got some amazing lots donated already. For example, Gianfranco Soldera, despite having all his wine poured away by a disgruntled employee, has donated magnums of 2003 wine, with hand-drawn labels. And there's great stuff like La Fleur-Pétrus, Château Palmer, Smith Haut-Lafitte, and we're expecting Cheval Blanc today."
The foundation's CEO, Paul Anthony Gidley, said that future auctions would also be held in different wine-producing countries, likely beginning with France next year.
The foundation will have an "ambassador" in each country: "Nigel Greening, who has Felton Road, is going to be ambassador for New Zealand. The chef de cave at Veuve Clicquot is probably going to be an ambassador and we're talking to Trimbach in Alsace," reported Gidley.
Fifty percent of the funds raised at each auction will go to the host country, with the remainder divided among charities elsewhere in the winemaking world. America will not be included as its Napa and Florida auctions already raise "tremendous sums."
"The wine industry there does a great deal for children as it is and is working well in the aid field," said Gidley. "But it doesn't exist outside of the U.S., and that really is our remit: to try to bring everybody together."
He estimates that the two main American wine auctions, in Napa and Florida, raise a total of $10 million a year. Gidley's aim is for The Grape Foundation to match that annual figure within five years, when "we should have an event going off in every winemaking country."
The foundation's manifesto declares: "The drinks industry – and indeed wine – is often given negative press due to its misuse and even abuse, but we know how loving, close and caring most wine communities are.
"The Grape Foundation was formed to reflect these positive sentiments and demonstrate how, as an industry, we really do care about what we do, each other, and, of course, children in need."
For Wilson, the fact that bud burst for the foundation was at Mouton Rothschild's grand dinner adds a note of piquancy. "Every table is hosted by one of the châteaux and they bring their own wine, so it's not like someone is spending millions on the dinner. And the charity is kind of a replication of that. If everyone brings some wine, then all of a sudden you've got a fantastic event."
* To learn more or make a donation, see The Grape Foundation website.