By Jan Walsh
Photography by Beau Gustafson
Every spring for the last 31 years, the Evening of Wines charitable wine auction has raised money to benefit the National MS Society. “The Alabama-Mississippi Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society continues to be grateful for the support that Evening of Wines receives from the Birmingham food and wine community each year. What began as a $20,000 fundraiser in 1985 has grown into one of the Chapter’s most successful annual fundraisers,” Alabama-Mississippi Chapter President Andrew Bell explains. “Over these 31 years, the auction has raised $3.1 million. These generous contributions are invested locally to advance MS research at UAB and to provide programs and services for the 4,700 people living with MS in Alabama.”
I have been on the steering committee for this event for more years than I can recall. But this year was not like the previous ones; unexpectedly, a family member began having symptoms of MS. I began researching the latest on the disease and the progress that had been accomplished in the 31 years of our event. Thankfully, my family member did not have a diagnosis of MS.
Many are not so lucky. MS affects more than 2.3 million worldwide. Multiple sclerosis is a disease in which a person’s immune system attacks the myelin that covers the nerves. This disrupts communication between the brain and the rest of the body. And the nerves themselves may deteriorate, which is presently irreversible. There is no cure for MS. However, treatments can help speed recovery from attacks, modify the course of the disease, and manage symptoms. And the National Multiple Sclerosis Society has helped more than 1 million people affected by MS connect to the people, information, and resources needed to live their best lives.
For this year’s event, the committee decided on a classic steakhouse theme paired with the following wines: Louis Roederer Estate Brut Sparkling, Far Niente Chardonnay, Jordan Cabernet Sauvignon, Ridge Lytton Springs Zinfandel, and Warres Warrior Port. There is both a silent and a live auction each year, and Lee Weathers serves as committee chairman. “I remember looking at the array of the greatest wine that we have ever offered and wondering whether it would all sell,” Weathers remembers. Other steering committee members include Scott Atkinson, John Griffin, Ben Johnson, Bradley Lard, Kevin Logsdon, April Mason, Jono Mason, Tom Miller, Wimberly Miree Jr., Richard Vest, Jan Walsh, and Charles Yeates.
The auctioneer was Ken Jackson. “I could tell during the silent auction that something special was building. When the live auction began, it was clear that this was going to be the best auction in our history,” Miree says. An Oregon stay for two couples with a collection of Oregon Pinot Noir sold for $6,500. People also raised their bid cards to “toast” the speaker, Paige Lankford. This “Toast to a Cure” contribution totaled $92,000, in honor of the speaker. The grand total raised was $256,000. “I was really impressed with the extraordinary quality of the silent and live auction lots this year—perhaps the best we’ve ever seen: aged Californian rarities to wonderful European wines, no longer available. And they all came from fantastic personal cellars of very generous people,” Yeates says.