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LOS ANGELES Last year, the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation had to think fast to save its perishable offerings during record heat in Burbank for its “Culinary Evening With the California Winemasters" tasting event. This year, for the milestone 20th benefit at Warner Brothers, the temperature was considerably milder, and even the slumping economy didn't wilt the program, which was a sold-out affair this year with about 1,400 attendees; general tickets went for $350 apiece.
“We were so lucky, I can't believe it,” said the foundation's director of special giving, Barbara Balik, whose husband, Allen, is the event's founder and co-chairman. ”We had more corporate sponsors than any other year, and those sponsors bought tables. Corporate sponsors still want to bring their clients to something, and the [clients] love the Warner Brothers back lot. Everything just came together and worked in our favor. We raised close to $1.5 million, absolutely on par with the goal, and we are thrilled.” That haul kept pace with previous years; last year brought in $1.6 million, 2007 garnered $1.5 million.
The foundation tapped producer Katherine Caulfield (formerly in-house with the group) to produce, and worked with Warner Brothers director of special events Hillary Harris. The benefit, which took over a vast space on the studio's Midwest Street and French Street lots sprawled with about 800 silent auction lots, and booths set up for tastings from 68 California wineries and 53 big-name local chefs and restaurants, including Providence and Fig.
The Saturday event began loading in on the previous Thursday, headed up by Harris, with the help of a group of about 200 volunteers. “The big challenge for us this year was that the event ends at 11 p.m., with the last [partygoers] out typically by 1 a.m., and then we had to turn over the street by 8 a.m. on Sunday morning because [a production related to] the Ellen [DeGeneres] show was coming in,” Harris said.
This year, the event redoubled its earth-conscious efforts, with Riedel donating 1,500 wine glasses so guests would hold on to their own glass throughout the night rather than ditch plastic ones. There were also compostable forks and plates, and Warner Brothers-donated recycling bins. Cardboard boxes and wine bottles were transferred from the event location to an adjacent area reserved for 30-foot recycling hoppers. Dole put together table centerpieces of fresh produce, eliminating the use of an abundance of cut flowers.
Chalk it up to the worthiness of the cause, the tastiness of the format, or the mildness of the spring air, but guests remained patient during the live auction of nearly 50 lots. “We mix it up: we go from major trips to very unusual dinners to very hard to get wine lots; we have a great audiovisual presentation. And we find at the end of the evening, our bid amounts are just as big as at the beginning of the evening," Balik said.
And as to lessons learned after last year's heat wave, Harris added, “This year we had the dry ice on standby.”