By Laurie Jervis

The 10th Annual Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation biennial dinner and auction raised more than $1 million for Direct Relief, organizers have announced.

The evening, dedicated to Thomas Fire and Montecito debris flow relief efforts, took place Feb. 17 at The Ritz-Carlton Bacara in Goleta and attracted many Santa Barbara County winemakers, donors, wine aficionados and celebrities, including actress Jane Lynch.

Several first responders from the region were honored for their work and received a standing ovation.

Since 2000, the Vintners Foundation, the charitable arm of Santa Barbara Vintners, has donated more than $4.5 million to Direct Relief.

Money raised from the dinner and auction in prior years helped launch Direct Relief USA, the largest U.S. pharmaceuticals program and one that operates in all 50 states.

In the wake of the Thomas Fire and Montecito mudslides, the Goleta-based nonprofit group has been focused on local relief efforts, but it also plays a key role in the wake of national and global disasters.

Los Olivos viticulturist and winemaker Fred Brander of Brander Wines was recognized as Vintner of the Year for his four decades in winemaking.

In addition, Frank Ostini, owner of the Hitching Post II restaurant in Buellton and co-owner of Hitching Post Wines with Gray Hartley, was commended for his dedication to the wine auction “and support of Direct Relief for 20 years,” said Sherrill O’Neill of the Vintners Foundation.

One of the live auction’s lots was a collection of 100 bottles of wine donated by honorees of prior years’ events; that lot alone fetched $26,000, O’Neill noted.

Guests and Vintners Foundation members also paid tribute to longtime restaurateur and winemaker Seth Kunin, who died of a heart attack in late October at age 50.

His wife and daughter, Magan and Phoebe Kunin, were present for the honor, O’Neill said.


Laurie Jervis blogs about wine at, tweets at @lauriejervis and can be reached at The opinions expressed are her own.