During his long musical career, Louis Armstrong performed with some classic musicians, from King Oliver to Ella Fitzgerald. But on Nov. 3, the great Satchmo was backed by a less-heralded, but just as dedicated chorus—the students of St. Michael Special School, an academy for special-needs students that has served New Orleans since 1965. As a recording of "What a Wonderful World" played, dozens of students translated Armstrong's words into sign language.
The audience was filled with vintners, chefs and others from around the country who had come to town for the weekend to support Emeril Lagasse's 13th annual Carnivale du Vin. Over the course of three days, the event set a new high mark, raising $3.5 million for the Emeril Lagasse Foundation, which supports multiple children's charities in New Orleans, the Gulf Coast and beyond. The weekend was capped by a live auction that raised $1.5 million.
That auction included a record-breaking wine bottle: A single 750ml bottle of The Setting Wines Cabernet Sauvignon Alexander Valley 2015 sold for $350,000 to a Mississippi collector. The wine was part of a limited bottling for Shep Gordon, a famed talent agent who has represented numerous chefs, including Lagasse.
"Each year the funds raised during our annual signature events allow us to build upon and further expand the Foundation's charitable work, ensuring that we continue to make a positive difference in the lives of young people across the country," said Lagasse. "My wife Alden and I are grateful for the generosity of our donors, sponsors, participating chefs and the New Orleans community who continue to make it all possible."
At the auction, Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews announced that the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation was donating $250,000 to the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. "Emeril's work to help disadvantaged children through education and culinary training is admirable and effective, and fits perfectly with our goals of helping students in the wine and hospitality industries. He has long been a partner with Wine Spectator and we are pleased to support his efforts," Matthews said. Since its inception, the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation has raised more than $20 million for educational institutions around the country.
The weekend kicked off with the luncheon spotlighting the charities being helped and then a night of food and fun at the seventh-annual Boudin, Bourbon & Beer. More than 5,000 guests walked in Champions Square next to the Superdome, enjoying live music, sampling Buffalo Trace whiskey and more than 60 dishes from local and regional chefs like Donald Link, Nina Compton, Tory MacPhail and Nathanial Zimet.
The following night at the Hyatt Regency, auction guests enjoyed a multiple-course dinner, featuring food by Lagasse and fellow chefs Scott Conant, Rick Moonen and Jacques Torres, prepared by students from the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts' culinary program. Wines flowed freely from Merry Edwards, Château d'Esclans, Three Sticks Wines and Domaine Serene.
Food Network star Sunny Anderson pumped up the crowd to start the bidding, and it worked. Notable lots included "A Room Full of Magnums"—21 magnums of highly sought-after wines donated by attending vintners. As bids surged to $20,000, the donors offered to multiply the lot five times, bringing in a total of $100,000. A safari trip to South Africa paired with wines sold three times for a total of $75,000.
Baseball legend Rusty Staub donated 30 magnums of highly prized Burgundies, bringing in $35,000, while a trip to Sonoma, complete with a blending session with winemaker Bob Cabral and a barrel of Three Sticks Pinot Noir, raised $25,000.
With all the natural disasters that have marked 2017, the Foundation held a special Fund-A-Need lot, asking attendees to raise their paddles for recovery efforts in Sonoma and Napa Valley, Houston and South Florida. The lot raised $425,000 by the time the bidding was done.
"We strive to give back to our community and beyond, and are proud to support so many well-deserving organizations and projects that will impact youth for years to come," said Brian Kish, president of the Emeril Lagasse Foundation. All part of making the world just a bit more wonderful.