The Williamsburg Winery and the Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic Celebrate 30 Years Together
The Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic will celebrate its 30th anniversary in November 2021, and for all three decades, the Williamsburg Winery has been along for the ride.
Thirty years ago, when real estate developer Bob Stanton wanted to start a local wine festival, he made a call to Patrick Duffeler.
“May I call you Patrick?” he asked the founder of the Williamsburg Winery.
“Absolutely,” replied Duffeler, whose winery was in its infancy at the time. The first planting of grapes only happened five years earlier on the 300-acre Wessex Hundred farm he and his wife, Peggy, had purchased after envisioning the venture in 1980.
Stanton, a storyteller much like Duffeler, shared an unsettling account of nearly being arrested by an ABC agent due to his lack of awareness about the regulations around selling wine. It didn’t occur to him that his vision of raising money for charity with a wine auction that would also serve as a grand party required a special remote license. That wasn’t something he could achieve without piggybacking on a winery in the state.
That’s where Duffeler played a role. In 1990, the Williamsburg Winery was among just a handful of wineries in the Commonwealth and its fastest growing, producing nearly 20,000 cases of wine per year.
“We’d be delighted!” Duffeler responded, which initiated the beginning of a rich and meaningful friendship and enduring professional relationship.
“We were thrilled to work with the Chesapeake Bay Wine Classic,” Duffeler says today.
While the Virginia ABC Board changed to allow the Classic’s Foundation to apply for its own license to sell and auction, the relationship with the Williamsburg Winery continues.
“Because of the long, lovely relationship and all the help they gave, us, we still consider them to be our winery sponsor,” said Jennie Capps, executive director of the Classic, for the last 15 years. “Their name is on all of our marketing materials, and we will continue to do that forever or as long as they want to.”
The initial wine auction held in a white tent on the rolling acres of the Stanton home attracted 200 people and raised $11,000, starting the evolution of one of the state’s most philanthropic events.
“I remember the impact of the first Gabriel Archer Reserve case offered and the bids mounting at one of the first auctions,” said Duffeler, excited back then to see the state recognize how wine could benefit the state’s economy.
Today what’s called the Grand Auction is the largest and most successful event of its kind in Virginia. In addition to rare and collectible wines, guests can bid on an array of luxuries thanks to the support of multiple sponsors. The festivities take place on the grounds of the Southside Marina overlooking Rudee Inlet in Virginia Beach. Gourmet cuisine from some of the region’s top chef complements the wine offerings.
That handful of wineries in Virginia in 1991 has since ballooned to hundreds, many of them regulars at the Classic. “Our guests love chatting with vintners,” Capps says. “For a long time, our vintners were mostly from California. But then, with the growth here, we began inviting our Virginia friends
The three-day event scheduled this year for Nov. 4-6, benefits charities that support educational programs for young people in Hampton Roads, including the Access College Foundation. The Classic was not held last fall due to COVID-19 restrictions. Plans are underway for 2021 — Capps is hopeful it will be an opportunity for friends to reconnect and enjoy being together in a festive setting celebrating wine.
“People expect excellence, and that’s what we’re here to provide,” she says.
John Curley, considered the world’s greatest charity auctioneer, will look to exceed the $1.4 million raised in 2019.
“He’s been with us before, and it’s a game-changer to have him coming back,” Capps says.
Duffeler looks forward to what looks to be a promising fall for guests to revel in being together again to “enjoy life,” an expression he repeats regularly that encourages savoring a glass of wine among friends.