Where Brain Health & Hunger Take Center Stage: Fundraising The Napa Valley Way

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Artie Johnson, Shannon Staglin, Brandon Staglin, Garen Staglin, Shari Staglin
Artie Johnson, Shannon Staglin, Brandon Staglin, Garen Staglin, Shari Staglin

The first time I heard the name Garen Staglin was when he was suggested as one of the subjects for an article I wrote for Haute Living in 2015 on people who are successful in both the wine and tech sectors. It didn’t take me long to discover that what made Garen so special was not that he and his family took their money and founded Staglin Family Vineyards but what the family has used its winery to do since purchasing the Rutherford Bench estate in 1985.

Jennifer Hudson
Jennifer Hudson

The Staglins–Garen, his wife, Shari, and their children, Shannon and Brandon–are synonymous with brain health, a cause they embraced after Brandon was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 1990. Five years later, the Music Festival for Brain Health was born. The spectacular one-day event has gone on to become America’s top mental health fundraising event. On September 15, I had the pleasure of attending the 24th edition, where the day began with an educational scientific symposium followed by an unbelievable wine tasting reception in the caves featuring 75 superstar producers, including Screaming Eagle, Bond, Ovid, Vérité, Scarecrow and Colgin, and hors-d’oeuvres by chef Victor Scargle. For the third act, iconic Academy Award and two-time Grammy award-winning artist Jennifer Hudson put on an incredible and moving vocal performance. Afterward, under the stars, VIPs feasted on a scrumptious dinner prepared by three Michelin-starred chef Christopher Kostow of The Restaurant at Meadowood Napa Valley and The Charter Oak.

Atmosphere, Music Festival for Brain Health
The atmosphere at Music Festival for Brain Health

It was impressive enough that the day raised more than $6 million for One Mind, the nation’s leading private-public mental health organization dedicated to curing brain-related diseases, including depression, schizophrenia, traumatic brain injury and bipolar illness. But what was staggering was the announcement that an additional $83 million in follow-up funding has been raised in 2018 alone to bring the 24-year cumulative total, including direct contributions and leveraged funds provided to scientists as a result of initial research funding from festival proceeds, to more than $380 million since 1995! As Jennifer belted from her lungs, Garen stood next to me, listened in awe and uttered, “Amazing!” Although he referred to the singer’s voice, those same words can be used for the Staglins. “This family is fantastic,” Congressman Mike Thompson told the crowd. “They’ve been able to marry their success with their philanthropic goals.”

Peter Mondavi Jr
Peter Mondavi Jr

I closed out September by going to the 26th annual Hands Across the Valley on the lawn at the historic Charles Krug Winery in St. Helena. Although this was my first time attending this community favorite evening, I’ve been hearing about it since I moved to Napa Valley three years ago. Real estate developer George Altamura founded this nonprofit to help feed the hungry in Napa County and remains the president of the board of directors.

Bernard Tyson, Travis Stanley, John W. Thompson
Bernard Tyson, Travis Stanley, John W. Thompson

The Napa Valley Food Bank, Meals on Wheels, and other safety net food programs in the county have benefitted from the significant contributions made by this nonprofit, which relies on the benevolence of its guests, sponsors, culinary and winery partners, and local businesses and has raised millions of dollars over the years. Although rain threatened, nothing could put a damper on the spirit of the volunteers or guests, who included grape grower Andy Beckstoffer, vintners Darioush Khaledi and Ralph Hertelendy, and former Major League Baseball stars Vida Blue, Mike Felder, and Rich Murray.

George Altamura
George Altamura

Onstage, George spoke about the nonprofit’s early days. “I thought maybe I could get a group together to raise $15,000 for the Food Bank and Meals on Wheels,” he said. Francis Ford Coppola made pizzas alongside Congressman Mike Thompson, golf legend Johnny Miller and quarterback star Steve Young at the first event, which raised $30,000.

Atmosphere at Hands Across the Valley
Atmosphere at Hands Across the Valley

As the event grew, it moved to Francis’s home, on to his Inglenook winery and eventually to Charles Krug in 2015. This year, chef Bob Hurley passed the catering baton to Elaine Bell and what a delicious job she did at the sponsors’ dinner, where donated wine from more than 15 wineries flowed freely. With KTVU sports director Mark Ibañez emceeing and the energetic band Neon Velvet performing at full speed to keep the dance floor packed, it was easy to see why this worthwhile event is a must for so many locals year after year.

Photos courtesy of Flying Pig Studio and Bob McClenahan

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