Winemaker Dan Kosta is used to being asked to donate to charity events. Over the years, his critically acclaimed wines garnered thousands for nonprofits, including celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse’s charitable foundation in New Orleans.
So when wildfires tore through Sonoma County last October and Kosta was among the thousands who lost homes, Lagasse — a longtime friend and business collaborator — was eager to find a way to give back to his friend and the Wine Country fire victims.
“So many of the winemakers, donors, sponsors, and friends who make the foundation’s fundraising efforts possible were affected by the California fires,” Lagasse said. “My wife, Alden, and I are grateful for their tremendous generosity year after year, and we’re honored to be able to pay it forward and give back to those in need in the Napa Valley and Sonoma regions.
“People just got on the phone and asked Dan to come to New Orleans,” Lagasse added. “Dan has never said no to us, ever, when we asked for his help with charity work. He’s done so much for us, and we take care of each other.”
On a lark, the two decided to auction off a one-night wine and dinner party at the 40-by-40-foot trailer that Kosta lived in for several months. The trailer was recently moved to Arista Winery for the party.
Thus was born “Party at Dan’s,” a single auction package that raised a whopping $500,000 for Napa and Sonoma fire relief during Lagasse’s annual Carnivale du Vin in New Orleans last November.
High-dollar donors vied for a coveted spot at the Sonoma event, held last Friday at Arista Winery in Healdsburg. Many of the attendees were from the Gulf Coast, which has also seen its share of natural disasters. In total, the 2017 Carnivale du Vin raised more than $1.5 million for the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which helps inspire youth through culinary, nutrition and arts education.
Kosta said it took just 10 minutes for attendees at the winter auction to donate half a million dollars to fire relief. “I donated $25,000 and asked people to follow my lead. For anyone who donated, we promised a party this June at Dan’s Trailer,” said Kosta. “They just really stepped up.”
With green hills, cleared rubble and recovery well underway this spring, it seemed time for a celebration, according to Kosta, who invited some of the region’s best chefs and vintners in the name of recovery and philanthropy.
The lineup included chefs Michael Mina, Dustin Valette (Valette, Healdsburg), Ken Frank (La Toque, Napa), Mark Stark (Stark Reality Restaurants) and Timothy Kaulfers (Arista Winery) along with winemakers from Darioush, Limerick Lane, Three Sticks, The Setting Wine, Riverain, Fleury Estate, Pride Mountain and AldenAlli (a joint venture with Lagasse and Kosta).
Others attending the event included musician Sammy Hagar along with Juliana Martinelli (Martinelli Winery), Michael Haney (Sonoma County Vintners) and Suzanne Pride Bryan (Pride Mountain Winery).
Kosta said he is not planning to rebuild a home in Sonoma County and that losing his home was freeing in some ways.
“It’s humbling. It shakes you up and you know the difference between what you want and what you need,” Kosta said. “You realize that happiness in life is a choice. It offers up perspective.”
Though the party brought a festive vibe to the trailer last week, Kosta spent a less celebratory three months living in the space with his family. Kosta has since moved to a home in Healdsburg.
He says the time after losing his home changed him, helping him focus on helping others rather than worrying about his own possessions.
“I know that so many people suffered so much loss,” he said. “I’ve never felt so lucky, and I have so much empathy for those who weren’t as lucky,” he said.
Kosta now plans to sell the trailer and is looking forward to a new chapter in his life. “Home is where you’re at,” he said. “I like blowing in the wind right now.”
During Lagasse’s November charity auction, a 2015 The Setting Cabernet Sauvignon sold for $350,000, the most ever paid for a single bottle of wine.
The $500,000 raised by the Emeril Lagasse Foundation was split between the Community Foundation of Sonoma County and the Napa Valley Community Foundation. Both are working toward the long-term efforts of rebuilding communities after the fires. The Community Foundation of Sonoma County was unable to disclose which specific nonprofits received the funding from the Emeril Lagasse Foundation.
“It was my pleasure to help our friends when Sonoma County needed us,” Lagasse said. “We are still recovering from Hurricane Katrina 13 years later,” he added, with a nod to the home he lost in New Orleans. “We know how long it takes.”