Auction Napa Valley 2019

San Francisco Sommelier, Laura Pauli, recounts her experience volunteering at Auction Napa Valley

When I read about the opportunity to volunteer at the Auction Napa Valley through SommFoundation, I immediately applied. I’d read about and been regaled with stories of this spectacular event, complete with iconic wines, winemakers, and industry legends. More importantly though, I was struck by how this auction, which has invested $180 million in local nonprofits since 1981, so profoundly helps the local community. Because of Auction Napa Valley’s fundraising, aid was immediately dispatched to those affected by the 2014 earthquake and the most recent devastating fires. Every child in Napa Country has healthcare because of this event.

As a hospitality professional, I take seriously my responsibility to ensure, through graciousness and humble expertise, that my guests have a memorable experience, whether I’m working at a Michelin-three-star restaurant or a hip pop-up in my home town of San Francisco, and it’s no different at Auction Napa Valley. Thirty-five sommeliers from across the U.S. and Canada came together for an intense day to provide exceptional service to make the auction as enjoyable as possible for our guests.

For me, it was a thrill to meet the winemakers that I’d learned about, be it in books, industry publications, or on wine labels, and to taste wines that I never thought I’d have the chance to experience. More heartwarming, though, was the camaraderie of this team, most of whom had never met, coming together for such a consequential purpose. Much as Napa Valley Vintners’ mission is to support their local community, the hospitality community personifies excellence in our service to the guests we serve and to our fellow sommeliers and hospitality professionals.

The mission statement of the Guild of Sommeliers’ SommFoundation states that they “assist wine and spirits professionals to achieve the highest level of proficiency and accreditation in the food and beverage industry.” They certainly achieve that, but they do so much more. I was introduced to SommFoundation through my wine studies and learned they host many enrichment trips to wine regions around the world, as well as scholarships for exams.

One of my chef instructors in cooking school always admonished us, “What you put in the pot is what you get out of the pot.” That couldn’t be truer with this SommFoundation enrichment trip. Diving in, welcoming, reaching out, offering advice to out-of-towners, planning side trips, dinners, tastings—it all enhanced the richness of this experience. Our networks expanded along with our hearts. It was a professional honor and personal privilege to have volunteered for this event with such an extraordinary team.

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