Hello WFF Community,
We are (finally!) nearing the end of 2020, and I wanted to take a moment to give you all a re-cap of the year, as well as a preview of 2021.
WFF’s year started off with hope and excitement for the 35th Annual Rare & Fine Wine Auction. The event was scheduled to be held on Saturday, April 4th, 2020 at the JW Marriott, with the highly respected Hugh Davies of Schramsberg Vineyards as our Featured Winemaker. The event was sold out, and projected to be one of the most successful events in the Foundation’s history. But COVID-19 had other plans – forcing us to cancel the Auction about two weeks before it was scheduled to take place.
Like everyone else, the Foundation had to find its “virtual world” footing. At the same time, the Board of Directors was faced with the challenge of finding a new Executive Director. As a sponsor of WFF at my previous employer, I was well acquainted with the organization and the team. I was also fortunate to know a couple Board members. While I knew that starting a new role during a Pandemic would be a challenge, I was thrilled to accept the Executive Director position on July 1.
The P Word
From my first day, I could see that the Board and the team were passionate about re-engaging with our community, so we hit the ground running. First, we had to think big picture. What was our goal? How would we . . . pivot?
Historically, WFF’s philanthropic efforts centered around education and scholarships for the wine and food community. But that didn’t feel right during these challenging times. And then it hit us . . . . our friends and partners in the wine & food community that have supported WFF with wine and food donations for our events over the years have been devastated by the Pandemic. WFF was in the position to support them when they needed it most. We knew it was the most important and impactful thing we could do, and we also knew that our loyal community of members and stakeholders would back our “Pandemic Pivot.”
Next – how do we achieve our goals? What is our strategy? Our creative and passionate team came up with lots of ideas. Once we vetted the ideas with our Board of Directors and our loyal community, we started rolling out our plans:
a. Host a consistent schedule of virtual tastings through our newly branded “IMBIBE: The WFF Education Series.”
b. Re-launch our Membership Program with new benefits designed with the ongoing Pandemic in mind
c. Re-brand and re-design our website
d. Host a grand, two-day virtual fundraiser: Nourish The Soul – A Hospitality Industry Benefit.
We accomplished all of those things in four short months, and because of your incredible support in 2020, we were able to donate more than $80,000 to the hospitality community, and funnel more than $24,000 in business to our local Austin restaurants! We are proud to have helped very deserving wine & food professionals, and humbled by the support of our members and stakeholders. An extra special thank you to our 2020 Presenting Sponsor, HEB. We would not be where we are without your support! Thank you also to CapTrust, Twin Liquors, Austin Wine Merchant, The Label Collective, ILIOS Productions, and the many wine/beverage donors from our fall fundraiser.
Preparing for a Brighter, Exciting Future
After that was all said and done, we picked up our pencils and started planning for 2021. Needless to say, the current environment makes it incredibly difficult to plan for the week ahead, let alone the year ahead. But thankfully, the vaccine news gave us a little help in our planning efforts. And the responses we received from our Member Survey were enormously helpful as well. So, here’s a look at what’s ahead. (But please don’t hold us to it!)
We are heavily focused on our community as we head into 2021. We welcomed lots of new members this year and we hope that growth continues into the new year. (Tell your friends!) This virtual world has been a bit of a road block in our goal to nurture our community, but we hope that 2021 brings us opportunities to gather – live and in-person – with like-minded people who enjoy one another’s company.
Until then, we have locked in our plans for the 2021 Rare & Fine Wine Auction, which will take place on Saturday, November 6 at the JW Marriott with Hugh Davies from Schramsburg Vineyards as our Featured Winemaker!
We have decided to increase our IMBIBE virtual tastings to a weekly schedule. Your feedback told us that Thursdays were the most popular day, with Wednesdays a close 2nd, so we will be alternating Wednesdays and Thursdays – beginning Wednesday, January 13th. These virtual sessions will continue to be free for members and $10 for non-members. We also learned that many of you are ready for in-person events if they are small, outdoors and COVID compliant, so we are working on some ideas on that front. These will be ticketed events with discounts for members.
We tested the waters with a members-only, monthly offers/discounts program in hopes that it would both funnel business to our hospitality industry and be a valued benefit for our members. It picked up a little traction, but based on the feedback we received from members and partners, we have decided to replace that program with a WFF Community Directory! We are cultivating this new resource as we speak, and we are hopeful and excited that it will enable us to continue to support the wine & food industry that is still struggling from COVID-19, and provide a valuable resource for our members. Stay tuned for details!
Cultivating Our Wine & Food Community
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, community, community, community! Let’s come together (in whatever format possible), engage in conversation with like-minded people about wine & food, share knowledge, and IMBIBE! There’s still time to get in on our one-month free membership promotion. It makes a great gift for a loved one and/or yourself! If your new year’s resolution is wellness-related, rest-assured that being a part of a community is very good for your health!
On behalf of my team – Hillary Welde, Senior Director of Events, & Megan Engle, Office & Marketing Coordinator, and our Board of Directors, thank you so much for your ongoing support of the Wine & Food Foundation throughout this incredibly tumultuous year. We cannot wait to see you, hug you, and toast to you in 2021!
On a personal note, I have thoroughly enjoyed getting to know many of you – albeit virtually. It’s been a crucial (and enjoyable!) part of my onboarding. Special thanks to Hillary, Megan, and our Board of Directors for their faith and support in me in my first six months. It’s been a [insert your preferred adjective here] year, and I’m incredibly excited about what lies ahead.
Wishing you and your loved ones a happy and safe holiday season filled with great wine, delicious food, and lots of rest & relaxation!
Denise Silverman, Executive Director
2020 Presenting Sponsor