Auction Action: Los Olivos to Draw Wine Buffs with Cellar Classic

by Gabe Saglie, Senior Editor, Travelzoo
(published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on 6/19/14)

Star power – on multiple fronts – will likely make this year’s Cellar Classic one for the record books.

The fifth annual auction of rare wines will take place in Los Olivos on June 28th, from 4 to 7pm.  This is the fundraiser of record for St. Mark’s in the Valley, an Episcopal church by name but the quintessential community center by design.  Aside from serving as a parish for its congregation, this is where more than 60 local groups come to access space – at no cost to them – for gatherings and events.  The area’s Jewish community, in the absence of a synagogue, meets here, as do a variety of 12-step recovery groups and theater ensembles.  Concerts and pre-school education is offered here to all, regardless of faith.  Cooking classes for low-income families are presented here throughout the year.  Even simple things – clean restrooms, filled water bowls for your dog – are always available here to everyone.

Bidders at the 2013 Cellar Classic (photo by Mike Mesikep)
“Once you start telling the story of St. Mark’s, you don’t have to do all that much to promote this auction,” says vintner Steve Pepe, of Clos Pepe Vineyards in Sta. Rita Hills, who launched the Cellar Classic with fellow parishioner Brooks Firestone in 2010.

The event takes place on the lovely grounds of St. Mark’s and serves up delicious wines and gourmet homemade fare.  A silent auction featuring one-of-a-kind wine lots leads to a rousing live auction outdoors, where cult wines that rival the lineup at any fancy Napa and New York City auction kick the tally higher and higher.  Last year alone, the Cellar Classic netted $225,000 and donations of $10,000 to $20,000 were made to its associate groups, including Santa Ynez Valley Cottage Hospital, Lompoc Valley Medical Center and St. Vincent de Paul.

This year, the Classic is extending its giving, with donations also earmarked for the Marian Regional Medical Center of Santa Maria and the Marine Corps Scholarship Foundation.

All the wines up for auction are donated, of course, with many parishioners digging into their own private cellars.  But about half the donations – as well as half of the actual bidding – comes from non-churchgoers who have simply come to love the St. Mark’s story.

Paddle battle at the 2013 Cellar Classic (photo by Mike Mesikep)

This year, that includes the event’s celebrity Honorary Chair, Steven Spurrier, who donated three 1977 vintage ports and who’s flying in for this from London.  The British wine expert and author is the man who famously organized the 1976 tasting that would come to be known as the Judgment of Paris, in which California wines bested French wines – gasp! – in blind tastings.  Actor Alan Rickman portrayed him in the 2008 film Bottle Shock.

Spurrier also stars in a live auction lot inspired by the upcoming Judgment of Paris film.  Hollywood heavyweight and vintner Robert Mark Kamen (The Karate Kid, Lethal Weapon 3, A Walk in the Clouds) wrote and produced it and is auctioning off a package that includes a signed copy of the screenplay (by him and Spurrier), an extra role in the film and four tickets to the movie’s U.S. premiere.

One of seven 100-point wines up for auction at the 2014 Cellar Classic
The rest of the Cellar Classic’s stars are the cult wines themselves, of course, which comprise more than 60 one-of-a-kind lots: Blandy's 1880 Verdelho Solera Madeira, Chateau Lafite Rothschild 1961 Pauillac, Chateau Margaux 1953 Margaux, Maison Leroy 1949 Musigny, Chateau Lafite 1970 Pauillac, and many more.

Local wines in the spotlight include Foxen and Liquid Farm; Curtis Winery is donating an entire barrel of its 2012 “Semper Fi” Bordeaux Blend.

Lifestyle lots range from vineyard-inspired originals by local artists like James Paul Brown and a Sunstone Villa getaway for 10 to a paella party for 12 in Napa and the ultimate Yankees experience in New York City (complete with VIP tickets to a game at Yankees Stadium, field passes to meet First Base Coach Mick Kelleher, airfare, hotel and a Broadway show).

The list goes on and on, and it’s so sensational that even if you’re not an avid bidder, this is the one summer wine event not to miss.

For tickets – or to make a donation – contact Steve Pepe directly at 805-735-7867 or

And new this year: a lavish reception the night before, on Friday, at Mattei's Tavern in Los Olivos, featuring Mr. Spurrier.  Click here for more information.



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