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Fundraising With a View and Pinot Too

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When a charity event celebrates 30 years, no doubt it's not only been successful but has helped beneficiaries and local community along the way. That's exactly what Winesong, the annual fundraiser on the Mendocino coast of California has done for three decades.

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"Over 30 years we've raised $6.5 million," says Jeri Erickson, executive director of the Menodcino Coast Hospital Foundation. "Our beneficiary and our sole purpose is to support the Mendocino Coast Hospital, a 25-bed hospital. We service 70 miles of coastline over 540 square miles, as were are a remote region. The closest hospital is an hour away through windy mountain roads, so a hospital in our community is absolutely vital."

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Jeri owes part of Winesong's longevity to its unique location. "All of our events have a coastal view," she says. Winesong is always the first weekend of September.

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The Friday afternoon event is the Pinot Noir Celebration at the Little River Inn. You'll find 25 wineries from Anderson Valley, the famed Pinot Noir region, pouring with bites from Little River Inn, which happens to be celebrating its 75th anniversary. "Little River is a historic hotel and it has wonderful views of the ocean," Jeri says. "We only sell 300 tickets and it's an opportunity to talk to the winemakers and find out about their wines. It's just a great intimate and educational experience for our guests."

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On Saturday the day begins at the Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens, a 42-acre garden with pathways leading from one garden vignette to another, from dahlias to succulents, perennials and rhododendrons. Here you'll find nine food and wine stations, each with a musical group performing a variety of jazz, blues, calypso and rock. About 100 wineries from all over, not just Mendocino, but Napa, Sonoma, Oregon, Italy and South Africa will be pouring along with nibbles from 50 culinary establishments. Best of all, the garden paths lead you to the coast for an ocean view.

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A silent auction takes place, with many offerings from local artists and rare wines up for bid. Then a barbecue alfresco lunch or the Reserve Auction lunch, (VIP if you will) where you'll dine from a menu created by longtime auction supporter and Bay Area culinary legend Narsai David, and prepared by local chef Margaret Fox, of Cafe Beaujolais and author of Morning Food and Cafe Beaujolais. Narsai will also MC the festivities.

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The live auction features lifestyle lots, including trips to St. Barth, Amsterdam and wine tasting and a safari in South Africa. One of the highlights this year is "a cruise on a 90-foot yacht through the Bahamas with a private chef and staff," Jeri says. "Our way of building trips is making them unique, something you can't get from a travel agent."

What's special about Winesong is you really see where your money is going. Each year there is one specific project that funds are earmarked for. Winesong raised money to build a $1.4 million diagnostic imaging center. For a purchase of a nuclear medicine camera, $315,000 was raised.

Then there's the Fund a Need auction lot, which raises money for a specific project. Last year, the Fund a Need was to buy an ambulance. "In 2 minutes we raised $116,000 to buy an ambulance because we do have to support our own ambulance service here."

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During the auction weekend Jeri says the Foundation takes donors and bidders to the hospital so they can see where their money is going. "They get to see it every year, they know their money is being put to good use."

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Winesong attracts about 1,800 attendees, many of whom are repeat visitors. Jeri calls them "our Winesong family. We have folks who come from all over the United States, St. Barth, Italy year after year, making the trek. They are so loyal to us and they do so much to help our community." Jeri says the joke is that they keep coming back for 30 years "because it takes that long to try all the wines."

Another member of the Winesong family is artist Lowell Herrero, a local painter beloved for his colorful paintings of farmers and agricultural scenes. He is Winesong's 2014 Artist of the Year.  He is donating is his series "The Four Seasons" as a series of four six liter wine bottles etched and painted with one of the four seasons images. Those bottles will be filled with wine from DuMOL, and the auction lot will be offered in four separate lots, one per year over four years. "Anyone who wants the set needs to be here for four years in a row to collect the set," Jeri says.

Tickets for Winesong are on sale now, and Jeri hopes she can convince you to make the trek to the Mendocino coast. "It's a visually beautiful event, something folks need to see. You come once, you become family and come back every year."

Photos Courtesy Mendocino Coast Hospital Foundation