Back in March, the Destin Charity Wine Auction was up in the air, as the COVID-19 pandemic shut down live events across the country. But last month the auction roared back, as remote bidders helped raise $1.35 million for local children’s charities.

Like many other philanthropic wine events, the Destin Auction had to employ new strategies. The live auction on Aug. 22 was streamed on YouTube for the first time ever, and raised $992,000 in live bids. Although the total amount raised fell short of last year’s $3.6 million, the virtual auction included two lots that passed the $100,000 barrier, breaking the auction’s record for highest bids.

“A virtual auction coupled with a broadcast element and appropriately sized watch parties was the final plan, and it worked very well, with results far better than we had expected,” auction president John Russell told Wine Spectator. “Our people liked bidding by phone, and they enjoyed being able to participate in the event from anywhere in the country, as opposed to gathering with 550 people in a tent.”


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Russell made a few other changes to this year’s live auction, Destin’s 15th annual. He reduced the number of live-auction lots to keep the event at two hours rather than the usual four, and eliminated nearly all the lots that involved trips to Europe, adding more U.S. and Caribbean vacation opportunities instead.

Top wine lots from the live auction included “Magnum Force,” a collection of 50 magnums from renowned vintners including Silver Oak, Joseph Phelps and Caymus, which sold for $55,000. Other top lots included a four-night stay at Napa Valley’s Dakota Shy and a three-night stay at Montana’s Triple Creek Ranch (winning bid: $105,000) and a trip to Caribbean luxury resort Rosewood Little Dix Bay in the British Virgin Islands ($100,000).

Despite an especially tumultuous year, the event donated nearly $1.1 million to the 16 children’s charities in Northwest Florida that focus their efforts on homelessness, hunger and autism. “Our 16 charity partners had a lot riding on the auction, so they are thrilled,” Russell said. “We think there was a lot of pent-up demand for a safe and fun event with a chance to do some positive good for our community.”