At 6pm tonight, this year's Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance Auction will begin. It's not a swanky black-tie gala with big-name chefs under the stars. It's not preceded by a tasting where 300 of local society's leading lights are wined and dined (mostly wined) in the hopes of loosening their wallets. It's not prequalified with a $150 ticket to get in the door. Instead, it's online, on eBay:
You may hesitate at first, but... isn't that a good thing, and refreshing? Don't we want more than 300 people to see (and bid on) the packages we as a region are donating? Doesn't it sound appealing to market to EBay's 100 million active users? Don't we want the proceeds to go to our charitable partners rather than the overhead of flying in chefs, renting tables, linens, etc.? And don't we want mostly to bring support to our community from outside, rather than (or at least in addition to) going back to the same local charitable stalwarts?
I asked the PRWCA's Executive Director Jennifer Porter why she made the change and found her responses fascinating: "We changed to online because we weren't drawing an out-of-market bidder to the live auction," instead "relying on members and our community to donate lots, buy tickets and buy lots back. That, plus the high cost of running the event, just didn't seem to make sense". Other local regional wine groups, most notably Monterey, have canceled their auctions for this reason, but Jen didn't want to do that.
She found the idea from her former career in entertainment. While she was working with Comedy Central, the Colbert Report auctioned off pieces of their set using the same company (Auction Cause) that the PRWCA will be using. Although she is not aware of any other regional wine associations to make the move to eBay, the James Beard Association is doing so currently, so it's not unknown in the world of food and wine.
Key to Jen's decision was a reflection on the mission of the PRWCA itself: promotion of the area. Chiefly because the audience was mostly drawn from long-time fans of Paso Robles, Jen thought that "the live auction format was not achieving the goal of promotion".
The Paso Robles wine community has always been ready in its support of our local auction, but whether because of the new format or because of the outreach that the Alliance has done, this year's auction packages seem particularly exciting, including things like "Live Like William Randolph Hearst" (including a stay on the coast, a private tour of Hearst Castle and a case of wine), "Wine Country by Air" (including a private helicopter tour of Paso Robles wine country and a barrel tasting, blending session and private dinner at a great local winery), and "Music and Memorable Experiences" (including a private guitar lesson, CD and wine vertical from a local winemaker/musician, a wine country picnic and dinner and a deluxe room at one of our local hotels).
What are we donating? The complete Tablas Creek experience: a private vineyard tour, tasting and dinner with me and my dad, with wines out of his cellar, transportation provided by The Wine Wrangler, and a one year membership in our Collector’s Edition Wine Club, which includes 18 bottles of reserve and library wines.
To bid on this year's efforts, visit http://is.gd/pasoroblesauction between now and November 17th.
Since 2006, the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance has contributed more than $350,000 to a range of local community organizations. This move online seems to me to be well positioned to allow us to continue to be a powerful supporter of our local charities while also bringing more people into the process. What do you think? Will you be a part of it? Please share, in the comments.