Tim McGraw Sizzles in Napa, Charity Raises $2.8 Million

Country star Tim McGraw wore snug gray slacks and flirted with fans during an hour-long set played far from the arena crowds he usually draws.

McGraw, a three-time Grammy winner and fitness buff, donated his performance to help the Staglin Family Vineyard’s annual Napa Valley Music Festival for Mental Health raise $2.8 million last week.

“It’s a good-looking bunch out here in California!” said McGraw, who made People magazine’s 2011 list of “sexiest men alive,” as guests pressed against a makeshift stage. “I like the gene pool.”

At one point, the Nashville artist, married to country heartthrob Faith Hill, teasingly threatened to take off his shirt in afternoon heat that rose above 90 degrees.

Two days of wine, food, music and scholarly presentations for 1,000 guests included tastings offered by Napa vintners such as Screaming Eagle and Harlan Estate. There was sushi prepared by celebrity chef Masaharu Morimoto and a five-course Creole dinner at the host’s Rutherford, California, residence and winery above the valley floor.

McGraw’s Sept. 8 show “added sizzle to the science,” said Garen Staglin, co-proprietor with his wife, Shari. The couple has often enlisted stars to boost awareness and end the stigma of mental illness, getting Tom Hanks to headline a Los Angeles event last year. Their two-decade effort began when son Brandon was diagnosed with schizophrenia.

Proceeds from the weekend were divided among the Tug McGraw Foundation, named for Tim’s late father, a former Marine and Major League Baseball pitcher who died of a brain tumor; the Staglin’s International Mental Health Research Organization; and the One Mind nonprofit, which seeks to leverage federal funds and private philanthropy for brain-science and mental-health causes.

Common Goals

The groups share common goals of improving research and finding cures for illnesses such as depression and schizophrenia, Patrick Kennedy, former U.S. representative and co-founder of One Mind with Garen Staglin, said in an interview at the winery. Care for U.S. veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress can be a unifying focus of their efforts, he said.

Army veteran Aron Reppas, 37, a guest at McGraw’s show, returned home to San Jose, California, after serving in southern Iraq in 2006-07, shattered and unable to deal with memories of fierce combat.

“We got rocketed and mortared a lot,” he said of his 15-month tour with an infantry division. “It sucked. There was no Green Zone for us.”

The McGraw foundation arranged for him to join a mountain-climbing expedition in the Andes, led by a blind veteran, that taught him lessons about adversity and failure, Reppas said. It was a breakthrough that helped conquer suicidal thoughts.

“It saved my life,” he said.

Food Trucks

McGraw’s Sunday show cost $500 and was preceded by wine-tasting and lunch served from food trucks. Saturday’s $750 ticket featured the scholarly talks, tastings from 70 vintners in the Staglin caves, music from soul singer Allen Stone and the al fresco dinner in the Staglin’s terraced backyard.

The appearance by Screaming Eagle, based nearby in Oakville, is one of only two tastings the cult winery does each year, said General Manager Armand de Maigret. Its flagship 2010 cabernet sauvignon had a production of 610 cases and $850 bottle price for its limited customer list. At auction, the vintage has sold for $1,800.

“Everyone wants to see us but we don’t have enough wine,” de Maigret said in the shadow of a taco truck. “This is a really worthy cause.”

Pat Benatar

The music festival has taken place at the winery each year since 1995, when Charlie Trotter provided food and entertainment came from members of the San Francisco Symphony. The debut raised $45,000. The benefit has featured Brian Wilson, Dwight Yoakam, Pat Benatar and Dionne Warwick over its 19 years.

“They’ve taken a family illness and turned it into a charitable event that’s raised an enormous amount of money,” said Katie Mondavi, of the storied Napa wine clan, attending McGraw’s show with husband Peter. “You have to respect that.”

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

Muse highlights include Lance Esplund on art, Greg Evans on theater.

-- Editors: Jeffrey Burke, Lili Rosboch.