Staglin Touch Raises Record $16.9 Million at Napa Auction

Napa Valley Vintners’ record $16.9 million auction last weekend didn’t surprise anyone who knew that the Staglin family was chairing the annual fundraiser.

Shari and Garen Staglin, esteemed for their philanthropy and for producing premium cabernet sauvignons and chardonnays, have raised more than $800 million over two decades for medical research, education, the arts and social services, according to their records.

No cause is dearer or more urgent than curing mental illness. Their son, Brandon, has schizophrenia

Surging stocks and property holdings of 1,000 attendees, most paying $2,500 for weekend activities that climaxed inside a big white tent on June 1 at the Meadowood Napa Valley resort in St. Helena, California, helped buoy spirits.

“We had a hope and a plan that was based on achieving ‘Lucky 13’ in 2013,” Garen Staglin said in a phone interview after the sale. “Our expectations were substantially exceeded in every way. There was a great outpouring of generosity.”

The biggest boost for fundraising may have come from the Staglins’ organizational know-how and talent for persuading people to open their wallets, said Paul Leary, president of Napa-based Blackbird Vineyards.

“The mood is very strong, and you’re seeing great momentum and lots of optimism because the Staglin family have done an amazing job getting bidders in the room,” Leary said during an auction break.

The couple tapped their extensive global network, hosting dinners in Shanghai, New York and Naples, Florida, where they made appeals for donations or attendance at the Napa event.

New Record

The total raised this year crushed the previous $10.5 million fundraising record set in 2005. “We’re north of $16 million,” Garen Staglin announced at a post-auction supper on Saturday beneath towering oaks and firs, to gasps from guests feasting on fried chicken, pork ribs and beet salad.

“Did he say $16 million?” asked Peter Mondavi Jr., co-owner of Charles Krug Winery. “The Staglins have a long reach.”

The couple had been asked to chair the auction on several previous occasions, and didn’t accept until daughter Shannon was able to rejoin the family business, where she now serves as president of the Rutherford vineyard in the heart of Napa, Garen said in a telephone interview before the event.

Shari is chief executive officer, and Garen, who got an MBA from Stanford in the same class as billionaire Sid Bass and real estate investor Richard Rainwater, heads up public relations. Brandon handles marketing communications.

Obama’s Support

This week, President Barack Obama called for ending the stigma attached to mental health problems including Alzheimer’s, post-traumatic stress and bipolar disorder.

“There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love,” Obama said on June 3 at the opening of a White House conference organized in the wake of December shootings at Connecticut’s Sandy Hook Elementary School. “We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment.”

The Staglins have had conversations on mental health issues with Obama as well as former President Bill Clinton. In April 2010, Garen took a call from the White House in which Obama “thanked Shari and me for the work we’ve done, and I thanked him for his leadership,” Staglin said.

The family’s commitment and showmanship will be on display at the 19th Music Festival for Mental Health, taking place September 7-8, in tandem with a brain research symposium at their Rutherford winery.

Admission to the symposium is free, with tickets to the music festival priced at $750. A second day of music, costing $500, will feature country star Tim McGraw, whose father Tug, a former Major League Baseball pitcher, died in 2004 of a brain tumor. Proceeds go to the Staglin’s International Mental Health Research Organization.

“He’s donating his performance,” Garen said of McGraw. “He doesn’t have to do that, but he will for this effort.”

(Dan Levy is a reporter for Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own.)

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