The 2015 Finger Lakes International Wine Competition culminated in a wonderful evening this past Saturday, when 540 guests attended dinner and bid on auction items for the benefit of Camp Good Days. For volunteers, Camp staff, and staff at the Rochester Plaza, it was a long day. But witnessing all the good things being done for Camp, it was certainly a rewarding one.
For most volunteers, our day began at 3:00 in the afternoon when we checked in, were served an early dinner, and had a meeting with Amanda Anderson and Chris Van Zile. The purpose of the meeting was to review the agenda, get our assignments, and also to walk through the facility. We toured the ballroom, the VIP tent, areas where the auction items were on display, the checkout area, and most important, the “Candy Store” containing the wines to be served during the evening. There, Candy Store manager Lorraine Hems was working with her staff inspecting and organizing bottles, so they would be in a good position to find wines guests expressed interested in tasting.
At 5:00, the VIP tent opened up where guests who paid for those tickets got first dibs tasting some of the double golds and golds, and were offered hors-d’oeuvres. As other guests entered the hotel and walked around viewing auction items, they also were able to visit any of seven pouring stations. Each station was able to serve a variety of wines selected by Lorraine. Viewing and tasting continued through 7:00, when the stations were broken down and wines returned to the Candy Store. Wine ambassadors, who would work with individual tables during the evening, gathered outside the hall in table order, were given one bottle of red and one bottle of white, and entered the dining room to “When The Saints Come Marching In.”
After the invocation and the welcome from Camp Good Days founder Gary Mervis, guests focused on dinner and tasting. In addition to the first bottle of red and white which varied by table, every table was served a bottle of the 2013 Dr. Konstantin Frank Semi-Dry Riesling, which won the Best of Show award. Then, it was up to the wine ambassadors and guests to decide what they were interested in sampling (well, the guests sampling and the ambassadors pouring), and we would get some wines from the Candy Store, serve, and then return the bottles so they could be shared with others. The sheer variety of competition wines available for pouring made this an interesting and educational experience.
When dinner was served, the live auction started. Fifty lots were available, starting with a case of the Dr. Frank Riesling, traversing through jet rides, travel and sports packages, tours and tastings, other cases of still, sparking, and ice wines, private dinners, and ending with the “Lets Get The Party Started” six litre Imperial of Drappier Carte d’Or Champagne. While the live auction was proceeding, the silent auction continued as well, and guests interested in particular items, or ambassadors knowing of their interests, periodically strolled around checking status. Live auction items that garnered the most spirited bidding were the Judge’s Wine Cooler (a collection of wines donated by each judge), the trip to Boston, and Wine/Cheese/Chocolate pairings with Holly Howell.
The absolute highlight of the evening, which occurred mid-way through the live auction, was the appearance of Courtney Wagner. Courtney is a camper and cancer patient who, among other things, was part of the audience at an Ellen Show in March when, to her total surprise, Ellen invited her to come on stage. You can see the interview here. Courtney spoke to us, sharing thoughts about her diagnosis, life since then, and what Camp Good Days has meant to her. She literally brought tears to our eyes, after which Peter asked guests to raise their paddles and donate $500 to sponsor a camper. Over the course of the next few minutes, we raised a record amount of $51,000 (102 campers).
As 11:00, things wound down, and guests who had not yet checked out with their items queued up at the registers. Others were busy carrying away cases of wine they had purchased with the help of members of the Victor High School football team. As things cleared out, the remaining open wines were moved to one side of the hall, pizza was delivered, and it was time for the volunteers to let their hair down.
All in all, May 2 was exhausting but exhilarating, to which point there is a saying that goes something like “It’s amazing when a plan comes together.” This one certainly did.