By Jessica Proffitt and Kay Phelan | Photography by Leslie Siller ad Melissa J. Thurber
Wine enthusiasts raised over half a million dollars for Gulf Coast charities at the Sixth Annual Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown with the help of such celebrity guests as Emeril Lagasse, Morgan Freeman, Rusty Staub, and Jonathan Cain.
This past spring, the annual Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown raised more than half a million dollars—$528,444 to be exact—which benefited seven Gulf Coast charities. It was a record-breaking year for the fund-raiser and a particularly gratifying one for founders Michael and Valerie Thompson.
Six years ago, the Thompsons, wine aficionados and residents of Sandestin Golf and Beach Resort in Northwest Florida, began organizing and hosting the Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown as a party for friends. In the last two years, they’ve turned their party into a fund-raiser to benefit local charities. Their philanthropic efforts have even landed them on the pages of Wine Spectator magazine.
“Over the years Mike and I have combined our love of wines and desire to give back. That turned into the Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown, which raised 100 percent more this year than we raised last year,” said Valerie Thompson. “This could not have been achieved without the amazing support of our Throwdown guests, donors, and volunteers. In an effort to keep our event private, intimate, and exclusive, we limit the number of guests to no more than 125 each year. They generously open up their hearts and wallets to make this wine charity event such a huge success. And best of all, all of our proceeds go directly to the charity organizations we support.”
In what has now become a three-day, star-studded happening with celebrities and world-class wine vintners, the Sixth Annual Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown encompassed an event at Lovelace Interiors in Destin with famed celebrity Chef Emeril Lagasse sharing his culinary expertise, a Sip ’n’ Shop tour for the ladies at boutiques along Scenic Corridor 30A in South Walton County, and an invitational golf tournament at Kelly Plantation. The grand finale was an outdoor gathering at the Thompsons’ home for a barbecue competition. Five teams competed, including celebrity chef Emeril Lagasse, twenty-three-year baseball veteran Rusty Staub, and Jonathan Cain, musician, songwriter, and longtime member of the rock band, Journey.
Over the years Mike and I have combined our love of wines and desire to give back. That turned into the Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown, which raised 100 percent more this year than we raised last year.
Celebrity judges James Molesworth, senior editor of Wine Spectator magazine; Chef John Currence, proprietor of City Grocery Restaurant Group; and Chef Jim Richard, local chef and owner of Stinky’s Fish Camp and Blue Mountain Catering, all collaborated to select the best barbecue team. The winners would claim the esteemed perpetual traveling trophy. This year, Emeril Lagasse’s team, the Herbert Brothers, captured the honor. Guests also voted on People’s Choice winners.
An integral part of the evening is a bevy of unique prize lots being auctioned off by one of the country’s top auctioneers, Ursula Hermacinski.
Live auction items featured highly sought-after packages including a dinner with Academy Award–winning actor Morgan Freeman; a hand-etched and hand-painted five-liter bottle of Revelation wine made by Jonathan Cain of Journey and a guitar autographed by members of Journey; two rare five-liter bottles of French Burgundy and two baseball bats autographed by Rusty Staub and Ty Cobb respectively; and a dinner for six in the Destin home of Emeril and Alden Lagasse, prepared personally by Lagasse, and a fishing trip aboard his boat, the Ole Miss. Other live auction items included a Hawaiian vacation, two SEC football extravaganzas, a fishing trip at Ocean Reef Club, a trip to New York, a Colorado ski vacation, a Carnivale du Vin VIP trip to New Orleans, a Cabo San Lucas trip, art from George Rodrigue and Justin Gaffrey, and numerous other high-end offerings. Morgan Freeman’s dinner fetched the highest bid of the evening at $80,000.
We were amazed at the generosity of the evening. For example, while up on stage, Journey musician Jonathan Cain added eight tickets, backstage passes, and a party on the tour bus at a Journey concert to his Revelation lot. Our guests went wild over that.
Chi Chi Miguel cofounder Michael Thompson added, “We were amazed at the generosity of the evening. For example, while up on stage, Journey musician Jonathan Cain added eight tickets, backstage passes, and a party on the tour bus at a Journey concert to his Revelation lot. Our guests went wild over that. So much, that Jonathan agreed on the spot to offer two of the same live auction lots which went for $33,000 each, times two! As well, Rusty Staub added to his auction lot with two tickets to his personal charity wine auction, which is one of the top ten in the nation.”
The best part of this story is the benefiting charities. The beneficiaries were Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC), Alaqua Animal Refuge, Children’s Volunteer Health Network, Emeril Lagasse Foundation, Kidz1st Fund, George Rodrigue Foundation of the Arts, and Camille’s Art for Autism. The Thompsons donated 100 percent of the $528,444 raised this year directly to the respective charities. For example, the Morgan Freeman dinner generated $80,000, which benefited the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center.
“Valerie and Mike Thompson are such kind and giving people. Their generosity is humbling,” said ECCAC’s executive director Julie Hurst. “Through their Chi Chi Miguel Throwdown event, the dollars raised have given our center the resources to help restore the often lost childhoods of children who have experienced abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The children we serve thank God for people like them every day. They are truly angels.”
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