By Kaitlin Candelaria
What is now the longest running charity wine auction in the country dedicated to raising funds for children began with a small group of people wanting to make a difference in the lives of sick children.
“We started out with a wing and prayer,” Executive Director Tom Miller said. “Two gentlemen had gone out to California for the Napa Valley auction and thought that we could do the same thing back in Birmingham. Alan Dreher selected Magic Moments as the charity and (the auction) was born that way.”
The Tum Tum Tree Foundation Wine Auction, formerly known as the Friends of Magic Moments Wine Auction, started over 25 years ago. The Foundation derived its name from the Lewis Carroll poem “Jabberwocky,” where the child finds respite beneath the Tum Tum tree.
Miller has been involved with the auction almost since the beginning, doing everything from soliciting donations to writing the catalogue for the event each year.
“People ask me why I do it and I say all you’ve got to do is go to Children’s Hospital and see those kids and that’s enough for me,” he said. Miller is the father of two and says he counts himself lucky that he was only forced to visit Children’s of Alabama once during their childhoods.
The first year of the auction, 75 people dug wine donations out of their cellars and gathered in Bottega for an auction. That small group raised $25,000 for Magic Moments.
“All we want to do is improve the lives of Alabama’s children,” Miller said. “That’s our mission in life.”
Altogether, the auction has contributed over $10 million to children’s charities in the state, with Magic Moments still being their primary beneficiary. However, other nonprofits such as KidOne Transport, Mitchell’s Place, Alabama Center for Childhood Cancer and Blood Disorders and The Red Barn also receive annual grants from the proceeds.
This year, the auction will support those charities as well as Angel Pillowcases, UAB’s Institute for Arts in Medicine and Glenwood Autism and Behavioral Health Center.
Although the auction is traditionally held on Friday and Saturday night the first weekend in November, Miller said he and his board made the executive decision to move the auction to Thursday and Friday, Nov. 5 and 6, instead. He said they were tired of “beating their heads” against the SEC football schedule. Last year’s auction was moved to the second week in November to miss the fan-favorite Alabama-LSU game. To everyone’s surprise, instead Mississippi State rose to number one and the auction fell on the same day as their match up with Alabama, making it arguably one of the biggest games of the year.
This year, Nov. 5 events will include the usual wine tasting featuring over 250 wines and silent auction at the Alys Stephens Performing Arts Center at 6 p.m. followed by seven winemaker dinners at various restaurants including Bottega, Cafe Dupont, Daniel George, FOODBAR, GianMarco’s, OvenBird and Satterfield’s. Nov. 6 is black tie optional this year and will begin at 6 p.m. at The Club in Homewood with a live auction and dinner. Approximately 45 auction lots including trips to France and Hawaii as well as tickets to the Alabama-LSU game will be auctioned off while guests enjoy dinner prepared by chefs at The Club alongside Rob McDaniel of SpringHouse on Lake Martin.
This year will also be the first time that there are two honorary chairmen — Jasmine Hirsch of Hirsch Vineyards and Fern Frias of Frias Family Vineyard will both be honored at the auction.
Also new this year is a tailgate party in Tuscaloosa prior to the Alabama-LSU game.
“If you can’t beat them, join them,” Miller said, laughing. “We’re really excited about this. We’ll have BBQ, a big pot of gumbo and Chris Hastings preparing side dishes.”
The party will be within walking distance of Bryant-Denny stadium. For more information on this year’s auction or to purchase tickets, visit www.tumtumtreefoundation.org.