Over the past 20 plus years, Napa Valley’s V Foundation Wine Celebration has offered sumptuous food and wine while bringing in big dollars to fight cancer. This year was no exception, as the three-day event brought together winemakers, celebrity chefs, community members and philanthropists to raise more than $7 million for the V Foundation for Cancer Research. 

Founded by ESPN and legendary North Carolina State University basketball coach Jim Valvano in 1993, the V Foundation has since delivered more than $225 million to scientists around the country to advance innovative cancer research. 

Jim Valvano is remembered for being many things: a player, a coach, a broadcaster, a brother, husband and father, a friend and more. But above all he is an inspiration. And when diagnosed with cancer at age 46, he never gave up.

This year’s Wine Celebration funded the foundation’s Canine Comparative Oncology Program in partnership with Morris Animal Foundation, The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and the Scott Hamilton Cares Foundation.

A million pet dogs are treated for cancer each year, according to Dr. William Nelson, Chair of the V Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee and Professor of Oncology of the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins. The proceeds from the V Foundation Wine Celebration accelerate research by working with cancer centers and veterinary colleges nationwide to compare the cancers that beloved pets get with the cancers that humans get to learn more about the disease and to develop better treatments, care and progress for both human and pet patients.

Receptions and Dinners
The long weekend kicked off on Thursday, August 1 with the invitation-only Hall of Fame Luncheon at Far Niente Winery. With its 13-acre garden setting, Far Niente provided a gorgeous backdrop to enjoy food and wine. Prepared by the estate’s chef, the lunch, was paired with Far Niente’s own wines.

That evening, Jeff and Valerie Gargiulo, of Gargiulo Vineyards, hosted the Humanitarians and Founders Dinner, which featured wines from their vineyards. Located in Oakville, Gargiulo is a small family-owned winery. The evening began with an intimate reception in the winery’s tasting room followed by a dinner with wines from their Money Road Ranch and 575 OVX vineyards.

The evening capped off with a reception and concert at Domaine Chandon, featuring the estate’s sparkling wines matched with culinary treats from Chef Victor Scargle and a rock concert by The Struts. 

The Struts at Domaine Chandon

Day two began with the Presidents Club & Vintner Grant Honorees Luncheon, hosted by Alycia Mondavi at the Charles Krug Winery. Krug boasts some of the oldest grapevines, and finest vintages, in the valley. The wine was paired with cuisine from Chef Nash Cognetti.

That evening, the Rock the V Party, held at The Estate Yountville, gave guests the opportunity to get to know some of the most impressive wine country chefs and quaff new releases. Later, a wine auction offered access to custom vintages from around the region.

Celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse serves up some Chilled King Crab Legs during Rock the V Party  at The Estate Yountville

The Science
The V Foundation’s Scientific Advisory Committee is drawn from some of the most prestigious clinical and research institutions in the country – MD Anderson Cancer Center, Oregon Health and Science University, the University of Washington and the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill.

Answer for Cancer Research Symposium at The Estate Yountville

On Saturday, at The Estate Yountville, scientists from the committee gathered at the Answer for Cancer Research Symposium and shared the latest on targeted cancer treatments, immunotherapies, liquid biopsies, genomic sequencing and other emerging treatments and diagnostics. 
After the mini-symposium guests had opportunities bid on wine, sports memorabilia, art and travel packages to help fund the research.

Coach K, Morris Animal Foundation Team and Brewer (hero dog) during V Foundation Wine Celebration Gala Auction at Nickel & Nickel Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley

“The collaboration with V Foundation will focus on genomic sequencing that will allow for significant progress in understanding the genetic aspects of canine cancers,” said Tiffany Grunert, President/CEO of Morris Animal Foundation. “This information will additionally help advance human cancer research efforts. The genomic sequencing data will be added to the Morris Animal Foundation Data Commons, an open data resource platform for animal and biomedical health researchers. Data Commons provides global access to historical data from the Golden Retriever Lifetime study cohort of 3,000 enrolled dogs, covering 11 key subject areas such as activity, dental, disease diagnoses, diet, environment and others.”

Golden Retriever Lifetime Study participants: Churchill (left) and Brewer (Right) with their loving owners and Carol Borchert (center) of Morris Animal Foundation

The Big Event
Saturday night was all about the grand Auction Gala at Nickel & Nickel Winery. Nickel & Nickel has supported the V Foundation since 2005, and has long been the Wine Celebration’s welcoming home base. 

The Bella Twins of the WWE and Beth Nickel, proprietor of Far Niente and Nickel & Nickel Wineries in the Napa Valley at the V Foundation Wine Celebration Gala Auction at Nickel & Nickel Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley

Hosted by Duke University basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, and featuring celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, the gala continued the focus on world-class food, wine and music. But the main event was the auction. One of the most memorable moments of the gala occurred when Coach K asked the cancer survivors in the room to stand, proclaiming them winners to thunderous applause. 

In addition to the fund-a-need for the Canine Comparative Oncology Program, during which guests raised their paddles to make direct donations, there were many incredible LIVE auction opportunities.

Nan & Wayne Kocourek kick off the fund a need with a $1 million dollar bid at the V Foundation Wine Celebration Gala Auction at Nickel & Nickel Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley

The evening’s top lot featured a VIP experience to the sold-out Eagles “Hotel California” concert in Las Vegas, hosted by Beth Nickel, proprietor of Nickel & Nickel Winery.

Nickel & Nickel wine flows during V Foundation Wine Celebration Gala Auction

Other top lots featured assistance from celebrity attendees. V Foundation Board Member, NBA Hall of Famer, champion and 10-time all-star David “The Admiral” Robinson, offered up cooking classes for four at the Culinary Institute of America campus in San Antonio, agreeing to double the lot after spirited bidding came down to two lucky winners.

V Foundation Board Member, NBA Hall of Famer, champion and 10-time all-star David “The Admiral” Robinson congratulated winning bidders at the V Foundation Wine Celebration Gala Auction at Nickel & Nickel Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley

Similarly, culinary host for the weekend’s gala, celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse doubled his lot of a Carnivale Du Vin weekend in New Orleans for four lucky couples, complete with two, 3-liter bottles of Emeril’s AldenAlli pinot noir. Over 25 lots brought in $2 million dollars at the culmination of the weekend’s festivities.

Chef Emeril and Coach K on stage during the V Foundation Wine Celebration Gala Auction at Nickel & Nickel Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley

“Throughout the weekend, just about every person we met and talked with about the work of Morris Animal Foundation pulled out their cell phone to share photos of their dogs,” said Grunert. “The dogs truly were the conduit that brought us all together. When we met with Chef Emeril Lagasse, he shared that he had four dogs and one of his dogs had just had surgery for cancer, so this is a cause that is important to him, too.”

The V Foundation Wine Celebration unites everything that is wonderful about Napa: wine, food, friends, music and generosity. In time, the weekend’s great fun will be translated into new approaches to cancer for both pets and people.

V Foundation Wine Celebration Board at Gala Auction at Nickel & Nickel Winery in Oakville, Napa Valley

“I am incredibly humbled and proud to be part of this amazing team,” said Chairwoman Julie Maples. “The V Foundation is truly a source of inspiration and generosity. In the words of Jim Valvano, we will ‘never give up’ as we continue to raise funds to support cancer research and programs.”