The Cancer Support Community of California Central Coast staged its third annual gala – Harvest, Hope & Healing dinner auction at Rava Winery’s sprawling ranch in Paso Robles on August 18. The evening sponsored by a number of Central Coast businesses, brought together cancer survivors, supporters and medical professionals and this year honored Dr. David Bolivar and philanthropist Brian Pitt.Sip & Savor Logo

The glamorous evening, themed A Night in Old Hollywood, reflected a spirited mood for people afflicted with the disease who rely in part on the collective support from the Cancer Support Community of California Central Coast, the evening’s beneficiary. The gala netted $200,000 that will be donated to the organization, according to executive director Shannon D’Acquisto.

Welcoming the guests, D’Acquisto remarked: “We are so humbled to see so many cancer survivors here,” said the executive director, herself a survivor. “And half of our doctors are here,” she added in appreciation of the medical community’s committed support. The event has been growing in the past three years from 150 to this year’s attendance of 250 guests. D’Acquisto’s goal though is not to exceed 350. “I really like the intimacy,” she told me.

The support group, focused in the San Luis Obispo County community, offers everything from individual counseling and programs on exercise and education to providing wigs and hats and assisting patients navigate the tricky landscape of insurance and medical bills. “In 20017, we served over 3,000 people,” D’Acquisto informed.

Shannon D’Acquisto with Elena Clark

For the gala, Rava’s spacious event venue was dressed up with the Hollywood theme as each table featured photos of movie icons who died of cancer. In keeping with the theme, many women glammed-up in shimmery gowns and vintage jewels. To heighten the evening’s experience, impersonators dressed as Marilyn Monroe and Charlie Chaplin mingled in the crowd offering photo-ops.

“Who would’ve thought — Marilyn Monroe in Paso Robles!” exclaimed emcee Casey Biggs as the look a-like went onstage to render the signature Monroe song “Diamonds are a girl’s best friend.”

The evening’s live auction kicked up the action as auctioneer Jim Settle urged the crowd to bid for items such as Elton John’s farewell tour concert, vacations at exotic resorts such as one in Costa Rica and tickets to Dodgers and 49ers games.

A hearty country dinner sponsored by Original Jimmy’s Catering, Harris Ranch Beef and Las Tablas Animal Hospital was served family style and included rib eye steak, cedar-planked salmon, hasselback roasted potatoes and grilled vegetables, finished with a cheesecake. The repast washed down with superb Rava wines and other local wines donated by Paso winemakers.

This is the second year Rava’s event space has been donated for the worthy cause by owners Chad and Lauren Rava.

Chad Rava is a third generation grower hailing from a farming family on the Central Coast that dates back to the 1920s. “The family still owns produce farms, but Chad is the first to go into [wine] grape farming,” said Lauren of her husband.

Doug and Nancy Beckett of Peachy Canyon Winery with Thom Schulz and Dr. David Lacey

The Ravas acquired the sprawling 500-acre property in 2010 on Paso’s east side El Pomar District. “It was a majorly distressed horse ranch,” said Lauren of the ranch, which has been completely re-purposed. The stable has been transformed into an elegant and spacious indoor event venue (that can accommodate 1,000 people) and a state-of-the-art winery. The veterinarian laboratory is now the tasting room and above it the luxurious B&B Villa Giada. A lake, fountains and lush landscaping complete the picturesque wine country scene.

While the Ravas were constructing the facility, Chad was stricken with cancer, Lauren shared. “There were times we wanted to quit building,” she recalled. But they kept on, largely due to the support they received from the Cancer Support Community. “And that’s how we got involved with the group.”

Vineyard planting began in 2011 and the tasting room opened in 2017. Currently, the160-acre vineyard surrounding the winery is planted to red varieties such as cabernet sauvignon, primitivo, nebbiolo and teroldego.  Cool climate grapes such as chardonnay, pinot noir, pinot grigio, albariño and gruner veltiner come from Rava Ranch’s Black Jack Vineyard in the Santa Lucia range of Monterey County. The majority of the fruit is sold to The Wine Group with a mere 10 percent used for Rava wines. “We are farmers first and foremost,” said Lauren with pride.

I met with Lauren few days before the benefit to get a taste of the family’s wines. I was quite pleasantly surprised to see that in addition to half a dozen still wines there was a flight of five sparkling wines offered at the tasting room — a rarity in the Central Coast wine region.

Rava sparkling wines
Photo by Mira Honeycutt

The idea of focusing on sparkling wines came by way of the event space, now a popular wedding venue. And “what does a wedding party need? — bubbly, of course, to offer our wedding guests,” mused Lauren answering her own question.

Furthermore, the non-vintage sparkling wines are crafted in the true méthode traditionelle style (the second fermentation is done in the bottle as opposed to a large tank). With a glass of deliciously aromatic Blanc de Blancs, a 100% chardonnay bubbly, in hand, Lauren took me on a tour of the grounds. The cavernous winery is lined with oak barrels holding the reds — cabernet sauvignon and Humble Red, a blend of primitivo, nebbiolo and teroldego.

Lauren proudly points out the state-of-the-art bottling line and the riddling machine (traditional French method of riddling or shaking the sediment in the bottle is done by hand). The still and sparkling wines are made by veteran winemaking team of John Clark and his wife Kelley Brophy, whose Brophy Clark wines are also available through the Rava tasting room.

Back in the tasting room, we savor the rest of the sparkling lineup: the crisp Blanc de Noir of 100 % pinot noir expresses traces of yeasty notes, the Brut Rosé is a vibrant blend of chardonnay, primitivo, nebbiolo and teroldego while the Rava Brut and another 100 % chardonnay showed brilliant aromas of stone fruit and a toasty finish. I was surprised to see a bubbly of grüner veltiner (a white Austrian variety) that expresses notes of green apple and bright acidity. In its sparkling incarnation the wine delivers a deliciously smooth creamy finish.

Aged for 15 months in French oak barrels, the full-bodied 2016 cabernet sauvignon is rich with blackberry and cassis accents. The Humble Red is anything but humble — it’s rich, round textured and vibrant with plum notes.

While new in Paso’s wine community, the symbol of Rava family’s heritage hangs proudly in the tasting room — an enlarged reproduction of a WWI military document from Chad’s great grandfather, Gerolamo Rava, whose signature from the document now graces every bottle of Rava wine.