Experiences running/organizing a charity wine auction?

Our local Boy Scout Council has decided to host a wine auction and of course, they’re tapping locals who have a scout (me) and are in the wine business (me) for assistance. The plan is to do an evening party for ~200 people with wine tasting and appetizers while conducting a silent and live auction for wine and wine related auction lots. There will possibly be an online component and bidding prior to the event as well. The setting will be local in an affluent small town in the East Bay.

I don’t think it will be a big problem getting enough auction lots donated from collectors in our community and from the wine industry at large. I also don’t think it will be too difficult to get enough participating wineries to pour at the event since the target market is one in which wineries would be interested.

Does anyone have any words of wisdom to share about conducting such an event?

How to find the right attendees and get the word out? Attendance normally wouldn’t be a challenge, but we’ll want folks attending who know the difference between a Kosta Browne and a Brown Forman.

Any experience with auction software for the event?


First off - this is a pretty cool idea for a Boy Scout event…! Just getting my oldest son into the Boy Scouts and I want to hang out with you guys - Seriously…

I donate a lot of wine from my personal stash to local charity events and the associated silent auctions (I’m not ITB - just someone who spends way to much money on wine ;oP) - and - there is no way you can choose who will be attending. Especially if they’re paying for a ticket, etc… You’ve gotta know your audience and go from there! Pick wines that you think will fit with the attendees’ preferences and price point. Usually, I’m the only one at an event like the one your planning that would love to see a case lot of '89 or '90 CDP or Bordeaux. Or better yet, six bottles of Rousseau Beze or something of the sort - I’d buy it in a second but I can tell you the money realized will not be what the donor wanted for the charity/organization. Know your audience and you’ll maximize the money for your charity - which is why you’re helping out. Oh yeah - forgot, getting a couple of glasses of wine into the potential bidders doesn’t hurt either - to lubricate the wallet a bit…

Why don’t you post the lots over on the commerce section of Berserkers so members can bid on the lots? I guess you could hold someone to their word to pay for the lot if they won… I’d be true to my word!

Get ahold of Jaqui “Charity” Bulkin. I’m sure he can help. rolleyes

Randy–Actually, don’t underestimate the difficulties in setting up such a charity wine auction, esp. for the first time. Everyone and their cousin does charity wine auctions up there, so a lot of potential donors already have a firm list of
charities to which they donate wine. Also, to be successful, you need to get people bidding on the wine who are willing to bid above FMV because it’s a charity auction. I’ve seen many charity wine auctions where they didn’t have the right audience, so the wines didn’t sell for that much.

Also, don’t forget to make sure that all alcohol licensing is handled–both for serving to the public, and for auctioning off the wine.


Thanks for the replies.

Bruce, this is Piedmont in the East Bay Area, not up in Napa. There are not that many charity auctions that are specifically wine themed in this area.

I hear ya on not to expect automatically that folks are going to be above (or even at) fair market value for the wines. In fact, this is precisely the reason i recommended to the Council that they NOT try to do a wine auction. Heck, if I knew who the big wine spenders in Piedmont were, I would already be trying to sell them my own wine. [help.gif]

I guess that to be sucessful you would have to determine your target audience and how high they might be willing to go to win a bid. That would help you determine the value of the lots you want to solicit from donors. No point in having auction lots of 3 bottles of Shafer HS if your bidders won’t go over $250!!

Then, to a certain extent, you could pre-qualify your auction bidders by setting the price of an admission ticket to the appropriate level.

Here are a couple of thoughts based off of my experience…

• Make sure the bidders are pre-registered with CC on file. There is nothing worse than waiting in a huge line at the end of the event to pick up your lots.

• If you have over 40 live auction lots, I would recommend that you hire an auctioneer.

• Do not accept every donation. Some people use charity events to fob off damage wine.

• Never hurts to have free wine flowing at the event to loosen up the pocket book.

• Create a subcommittee and lean on them to find the attendees. In many cases one or two socially connected couples can get your auction filled up ASAP.

• PM me and I will send you my number so we can discuss further details on the phone if so desired.

Good luck


I’ve never done a whole auction with just wine content, but have helped my wife organize the wine component for several charity functions where wine related lots are a significant component. A couple of thoughts:

  1. I think the issue of audience could be summarized as “they will invariably be diverse”. You can probably take advantage of that by creating a bit of “something for everybody”. That said, I’ve never thrown in or asked for a really high-end wine (Lafite, Screaming Eagle, etc) for the reasons Peter mentioned above…VERY limited draw for that. Plus I just don’t have much of that kind of stuff!!! At the school benefits we do, $40-50/bottle is the high end in terms of what most people will consider. There’s always a few outliers, and your geography / event may draw a different crowd. Unless the event is marketed broadly to wine geeks, there will be a limited buying capacity for high-end items.

  2. For less expensive wines, we’ve had good success setting up a raffle table, raffling off anywhere from 60-100 bottles. One year, we were fortunate enough to have someone kick in a Eurocave. Filled it with wines and marketed as “instant wine collection”. Another idea that seems to work well is carefully selected wines from around the world. Not super expensive stuff (usually maxing out at $25-30 with many considerably less), but something the average person hasn’t had the chance to experiment with. $10 per ticket with “barkers” mingling with the crowd during social hour.

  3. Verticals / horizontals are always good, particularly for “mailing list only” stuff that it hard to get. Large formats, mags and dbl mags, also seem to be a hit.

  4. Combine wine with other stuff to create an event. Out your way, that’s probably easier than it is here in MN. But, I put a few bottles of Montelena together with the DVD “Bottle Shocked”, some microwave pop corn and called it “Movie Night”. Hosted wine dinners have also been well received, whether hosted by restaurants or private parties.

  5. I always provide a lot of material / writeup for each silent auction lot. I want people walking by to know how cool the lot is. How good is the wine (pro reviews), how hard is it to get, why should I care about the Montelena story, etc

  6. Following up to point #5, I generally only select wines to donate that have at least one 90+ rating I can reference. I’m not real picky about which reviewer gave it that rating, as long as somebody did. Not to say that’s the way to go, but a lot of folks at these events do buy score.

  7. I’ve had hit and miss experiences with retailer donations. Some are great, and listen to what you need to fill in a gap, and provide it. With others it’s more of a clearance exercise. But admittedly I’m not ITB, and with your connections you will have better results up and down the distribution chain. For me, private collectors seem to be more consistent if you can track some down. Invariably, most folks that have a few bottles in their cellar have a few that they no longer care for but someone else will.

  8. Wine ring toss - stand a bunch of wines up, get some rings (small ones) and charge a buck or two a throw. If the person lands a ring on the bottle, it’s theirs.

  9. Your idea of serving alcohol at the event is a must. Tends to loosen up the purse strings.

  10. I would tend to want to “stretch” the theme a bit and include other stuff in the auction (not just wine) to broaden the appeal. The school fundraisers I’ve been a part of bring in a lot of “drink once a month” kind of parents who don’t care much about wine, but will take a look at a weekend B&B lot. I’m just thinking that supporters of the Boy Scouts might have a similar demographic profile (e.g not all of them drink as much as me). Cooking classes, B&B with a nice champagne to greet the guests, stuff like that could still play off the wine theme but broaden the overall appeal of the event.

That’s it off the top of my head. Not sure how helpful any of that is to your particular situation but hope there’s an idea or two in there that might be useful. Best of luck!


You will need to get a one day permit from California Alcoholic Beverage Control. Non profit groups can get one but check with ABC to make sure of the current regulations.

Thanks everyone for the thoughtful replies. I will keep the board posted on how it develops and definitely let folks know if we end up doing an online component.

Just last week I attended a benefit wine tasting and silent auction for the local CARE clinic (medical and limited dental care for the needy in the community.) Various distributors had booths for tasting and an extra $10 on the ticket price brought access to some more expensive wines. Several area restaurants contributed food. I contributed four bottles of wine from my personal collection for the silent auction (all ones where I had at least one more of the same on hand) and prepared a flyer to attract bids. The wines all happened to be from odd years so I had a headline: WHAT ARE THE ODDS YOU WILL LIKE THESE ODD YEAR WINES? I WOULD SAY 4 TO 1"
Then I went on to describe the four wines–two from USA and two from France, to white wines and two red wines and what made them special. I also threw in a canvas wine tote bag that holds six bottles. The value was listed at $150 and the bid was already over $100 the last time I looked before the silent auction ended. I think providing some information about the wines helps along the bidding but try to keep it to one flyer per lot. Pages of detailed information would be overkill and bidders don’t have time to read it all. Although the event was a wine tasting, my donation was the only wine lot in the auction. (Other contributions were a diamond bracelet, Polish painted Easter eggs, art work, spa treatments, certificates for dining at local restaurants, etc. I 'm already thinking about what wines I can donate next year.