Cocktail Corner: Going Sideways

We indulged in a "Pig Pickin' Party" tradition by drinking bourbon  toast in salute to our  dinner at the Sideways 10th Anniversary Winemaker Dinner. Photo by  Krista Kennell.

We indulged in a “Pig Pickin’ Party” tradition by drinking bourbon toast in salute to our
dinner at the Sideways 10th Anniversary Winemaker Dinner. Photo by Krista Kennell.

A spirited toast to all things alcoholic! By Leslie Dinaberg

It’s been 10 years since Miles and Jack’s wine-soaked romp  through the vineyards of Santa Barbara wine country, and the impact of these memorable Sideways characters—created by by author Rex Pickett and brought to life by director Alexander Payne and a top-notch cast and crew—is still being celebrated throughout the region. This Academy Award-winning movie introduced the world to the incredible Pinot Noirs of Santa Barbara, and has forever changed the wine world’s perception of the bounty that Santa Barbara County has to offer.

The 10th anniversary celebrations for the movie Sideways kicked off last weekend with a wonderful party at Clenenden Ranch. Hosted by restaurateur and winemaker Frank Ostini (The Hitching Post II Restaurant & Winery) and winemaker Jim Clendenen (Au Bon Climat), this “Pig Pickin’ Party” was quite the shindig, featuring director Payne and movie star Paul Giamatti, an impressive roster of local winemakers, as well as special guests Jim n’ Nick’s BBQ of Birmingham, Alabama.

Enjoying the festivities (L-R), Gray Hartley of Hartley Ostini Hitching Post wines; Sideways star Paul Giamatti, Frank Ostini of Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Wine; Sideways director Alexander Payne, Sideways producer Michael London and Jim Clenenden of Au Bon Climat wines. Photo by Krista Kennell.

Enjoying the festivities (L-R), Gray Hartley of Hartley Ostini Hitching Post wines; Sideways star Paul Giamatti, Frank Ostini of Hartley Ostini Hitching Post Wine; Sideways director Alexander Payne, Sideways producer Michael London and Jim Clenenden of Au Bon Climat wines. Photo by Krista Kennell.

As you might imagine, Ostini and Clendenen served some amazing hand-selected Sideways original era 2004, 2005 and 2006 wines from Au Bon Climat, Hitching Post and Clendenen Family Vineyards—and other vintners also brought along some specially selected bottles to pair with Jim ‘n Nick’s southern-style barbecue feast, which included flying in their own heritage breed pig that was then slow roasted overnight for the party.

In addition to the party at the ranch, which I was fortunate to be able to attend, the following evening the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation continued the festivities by celebrating the Sideways milestone anniversary partnering with Direct Relief  (a 14-year partnership) on the Santa Barbara Wine Auction, a biennial gala event that since 2000 has raised $3 million in support of Direct Relief’s mission to provide medical aid and relief to people facing emergency situations around the globe.

“At this year’s auction, through the generosity of local vintners and Direct Relief supporters, we were able to raise $1 million,” reports Foundation president Jennifer Williamson Doré.  “A significant component of that number was contributed by bidders desiring the chance to come together to celebrate the anniversary of the release of Sideways at a 10 Year reunion dinner, generously donated by Frank Ostini and the Hitching Post II and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat Winery.” To Jack and Miles we say, “Well done!”

Sideways star Paul Giamatti and  Frank Ostini of Hartley Ostini Hitching Post wine skyped with Giamatti's co-star Virginia Madsen at the benefit event for Direct Relief International.  Photo by Krista Kennell.

Sideways star Paul Giamatti and Frank Ostini of Hartley Ostini Hitching Post wine skyped with Giamatti’s co-star Virginia Madsen at the benefit event for Direct Relief International. Photo by Krista Kennell.

In addition to the gala Santa Barbara Wine Auction, the Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation raises funds annually through silent auctions at both the Vintners Festival and Celebration of Harvest in support of local nonprofit organizations including Santa Ynez Valley People Helping People, sponsorship of Vino de Sueños annual event, FoodBank of Santa Barbara County, Santa Barbara Vintners Foundation Scholarship Program, Annual Scholarships to qualifying high school seniors in northern Santa Barbara County and Annual Scholarships to qualifying students in the Allan Hancock College Enology and Viticulture program.

In what’s sure to be one of many more Sideways celebrations to come, the Solvang Conference & Visitors Bureau is holding a  Merlot Taste-Off event on September 13 to  pay homage to wine variety made famous in the Oscar-winning film.  As may recall, in the movie the character of Miles has the memorable line: “If anyone orders merlot, I’m leaving. I am not drinking any (expletive) merlot!”

Tracy Farhad, executive director of the Solvang CVB retorts, “No more denigrating merlot! Come taste these marvelous wines for yourself.”

Participating wineries include Baehner FournierButtonwoodCarivintasCoreDascombHappy Canyon VineyardJ. LudlowLions PeakLucas & LewellenPoint ConcepcionSagebrush AnniesSevtap and Sunstone. Local restaurants will provide gourmet appetizers.

The tasting will take place in the garden courtyard of the Solvang Festival Theatre (420 Second St.), and proceeds will benefit the nonprofit theater. For information and tickets call 805/688-6144 or visit

Stay tuned, there are many more Sideways celebrations to come.


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Leslie Dinaberg

Leslie Dinaberg

When she’s not busy working as the editor of Santa Barbara SEASONS, Cocktail Corner author Leslie Dinaberg writes magazine articles, newspaper columns and grocery lists. When it comes to cocktails, Leslie considers herself a “goal-oriented drinker.”

Jim Clenenden greets guests at his ranch in Los Alamos. Photo by Krista Kennell.

Jim Clenenden greets guests at his ranch in Los Alamos. Photo by Krista Kennell.


Winemakers enjoyed a special "Pig Pickin' Party" bourbon  toast in salute to the pig at the Sideways 10th Anniversary Winemaker Dinner. Photo by  Krista Kennell.

Winemakers enjoyed a special “Pig Pickin’ Party” bourbon toast in salute to the pig at the Sideways 10th Anniversary Winemaker Dinner. Photo by Krista Kennell.

Just a peek at the fabulous fixings at the Sideways 10th Anniversary Winemaker Dinner. Photo by Krista Kennell.

Just a peek at the fabulous fixings at the Sideways 10th Anniversary Winemaker Dinner. Photo by Krista Kennell.


A view worth turning sideways to see, at Clenenden Ranch in Los Alamos. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

A view worth turning sideways to see, at Clenenden Ranch in Los Alamos. Photo by Leslie Dinaberg.

Originally published in Santa Barbara SEASONS on August 8, 2014.

Leslie Dinaberg Sits Down With Thomas Tighe

Thomas Tighe (courtesy of Direct  Relief International)

Thomas Tighe (courtesy of Direct Relief International)

Since Thomas Tighe arrived in Santa Barbara to head up Direct Relief International eight years ago, the nonprofit humanitarian medical organization has made cash grants of more than $30 million and furnished over $850 million of essential medicines, equipment, and supplies to support health services for low-income people in 88 developing countries and all 50 United States. Clearly, this is a guy who gets things done.

LD: How has Direct Relief changed since you first came to town?

TT: I hope it’s better. Really what I was hired to do was to take it to the proverbial next level–but don’t mess up what’s good about it. …With Direct Relief we’ve tried to stay true to our roots and be what we always were, but bring it forward and apply some new tools and some new energy to, sadly, the same issue. There’s still poverty that is chronic and deep and oppressive. …. The expansion to helping out much more extensively in the United States was something that was really modeled on what had been. We had always tried to fill the gaps here in Santa Barbara, but not get in the way of government or get in the way of business. It’s the same thing. Those gaps are all over the place, including our own country, so it’s been helpful to be able to do more without really fundamentally changing your sense of what the organization is all about.

LD: You’ve certainly been successful.

TT: I’m really sensitive to the fact that Direct Relief is 60 years old. I’m just the most recent person in my particular job but the organization is something that others have built and many have contributed enormously to. It’s always a little unseemly for me to receive disproportionate thanks for work that thousands of people have done. To give people on the board their due, there are 60 board meetings a year here. It’s an enormous commitment of time. Stan Hatch, our chairman, I’m sure he’s putting in over a thousand hours of his time. … The quality of the commitment is just huge and has been for a long time.

LD: Does the idea of global citizenship seem like it’s more in people’s consciousness now than it was eight years ago?

TT: I think so. There’s a general consciousness of world events that is probably actually worse in some regards, because you only hear about foreign countries when something really bad happens. The attention-grabbing events tend to be bad and it tends to actually foster fear about what is going on out there. But I think underneath that there is a recognition that the world is getting smaller. We’re getting so stitched together through forces of globalization in an economic sense that there are winners and losers and I think an appreciation for the underlying human common element has emerged today.

LD: Direct Relief is this incredibly successful, wide-reaching global organization, yet it is located in a warehouse in Goleta. Does it feel like this organization could be anywhere other than where it is?

TT: I don’t think if you were going to start it today you would start it here, because it is not in the hub of global health or pharmaceutical stuff. But I think one of the many good things about being here is it is an intersection of all sorts of interesting people who either live here now or live here part-time who have an incredible depth of experience and insight into things in the world. There is no company in the United States that wouldn’t want to have our board of directors. These folks have really achieved remarkable success in their professional lives in all sorts of different walks of life. So Santa Barbara is the common element. Having that type of talent in such a small place is extraordinary and we’ve really benefited from the location.

And it’s a great place to have meetings because people will come to them. (Laughs)

LD: Did you always want to do humanitarian work?

TT: I really wanted to be major league baseball player, but I was not even close to being good enough to being a major college player. It was not a well-planned career path that I pursued, but it was much more a series of composite events that have led me to be doing what I’m doing now. First and foremost was probably just joining the Peace Corps after law school, which was a really bad career move. I finished law school and I passed the bar and then went to Thailand for a few years. … Then going back to Washington I was lucky enough to go from being a Peace Corps volunteer to a lawyer on a senate committee that dealt with the Peace Corps’ oversight. … I was lucky to have a series of jobs I really liked, found interesting and led to something else that I really like and found interesting and they’ve led me here– which I love and find really interesting.

… My best advice I give people is to write for their college daily newspaper. It’s the best training. … Really almost any job, any policy job, you need to communicate well in writing. There’s a discipline and a skilled kind of thought process that you have to go through before you can put the words down. You actually have to get it before you can write it.

LD: That’s funny because a few of my interns over the years have joined the Peace Corps.

TT: It’s great training … just think how many times (as a writer) you’re assigned to something and you have no idea about it, but you knew how to find out, and then you had to convey to people who were like you the day before and hadn’t heard about it and you had to get it right and you had to make it accessible without dumbing it down so much that it became devoid of meaning and that’s really a critical skill.

LD: I guess no matter what business you’re in; you’ve got to tell your story.

TT: You’ve got to make it accessible and without making it overly emotional or maudlin or anything. You’ve got to really do justice to the people we’re trying to help out because they’re great people, they’re not objects that should be pitied, they are just people who found themselves in a lousy situation. And the staff does it really well.

LD: Are you on the road very much?

TT: Maybe about 20 percent of the time … It’s a mixture of international travel, which is increasingly not as important because of the other folks in our organization are totally capable of representing the organization at any level of sophistication. … A lot of it is just talking to folks in companies or different organizations that might be interested in working with us or helping us out or figuring out a way that we can work together.

LD: Is it primarily people in the healthcare field or are there others that could potentially help out?

TT: It’s both. The healthcare companies have been great to Direct Relief for decades. Some of the companies that have really engaged with us in the past few years in an expansive way have been Google and Fed Ex. … I think we were one of the first nonprofit organizations that Google gave basically free advertising to on the Internet. So it’s allowed millions of people to find us that wouldn’t have found us because Google gave us an ad words campaign, and people find most of their information online.

Then Fed Ex has allowed us to get this incredible expansion to help out nonprofit clinics around the country, like we’d always tried to do with the Santa Barbara Neighborhood Clinic, fill gaps that arise in their program with resources that we could get donated. … So we’ve been able to expand that program now to all 50 states, it’s an over $100 million program run by Damon Taugher here on our staff. Fed Ex has delivered every shipment that we’ve sent domestically, free of charge, for the past three years. That’s been a few thousand individual shipments containing over four million full courses of prescription medicines for patients. Our costs of running that program are really low because Fed Ex has given us this incredible transportation subsidy.

So if we can find companies who are doing part of what we are trying to do and we can talk to them about doing it as an in-kind contribution, it sure keeps the need to raise money down. You know, we always need money to do something else with, but we don’t always need money to raise money to buy a good or a service.

LD: What you like to do when you’re not working?

TT: We have four kids, so spending time with my wife and four kids doing beach stuff or usually outdoor stuff. We like to spend time together and that’s such a treat in life to be able to spend time and particularly around here, there’s so much to do.

LD: If you could pick three adjectives to describe yourself, what would they be?

TT: Hopeful, graying rapidly and enthused.

Vital Stats: Thomas Tighe
Born: August 21 in Waukesha, Wisconsin

Family: Wife Carrie, and children Travis (14), Andrew (12), Griffin (10) and Megan (7).

Civic Involvement: Montecito Union School, Santa Barbara Middle School, Visiting Faculty Member at UCSB’s Masters Degree program in Global and International Studies.

Professional Accomplishments: Peace Corps Volunteer; Lawyer in the U.S. Senate, worked with Foreign Relations and Veterans Affairs Committees; Chief Operating Officer and Chief of Staff for the Peace Corps; President and Chief Executive Officer of Direct Relief International

Little-Known Fact: “I was a novice Buddhist Monk when I was in the Peace Corps for a very short time, for about a week.”

Originally published on Noozhawk on April 28, 2008.

American Riviera Wine Auction to Benefit Direct Relief International

Foxen Winery’s Bill Wathen and Dick Dore will be honored with the “Santa Barbara Vintners’ Foundation Humanitarian Award” at their biannual 2008 American Riviera Wine Auction weekend, March 14 and 15, with all proceeds benefiting Direct Relief International.

John Cleese will be presented with the “Santa Barbara Vintners’ Foundation Wine Diplomat Award,” and Andrew Firestone will host the event. Firestone, who will soon marry Serbian model Ivana Bozilovic, has also asked his friends to make donations to Direct Relief International in lieu of gifts.

The two-day event will include a weekend of wine tasting and elegant dining involving Santa Barbara County’s finest winemakers and chefs, in addition to highlighting the humanitarian work being done by Direct Relief International. Both nights will feature wine tasting and auctions featuring wine lots and winery parties at renowned local vineyards.

The weekend starts Friday night with “Viva Vino,” featuring entertainment from Cuban band Somas Son and salsa dancing at the Direct Relief International Warehouse in Goleta. Hungry Cat, Brothers at Mattie’s Tavern, and Seagrass will provide food, with wine tasting provided by eight Santa Barbara Vintners.

Saturday night is the black-tie gala “Wine, Dine and all that Jazz!” at the Four Seasons Biltmore. It will include a gourmet dinner created by nationally renowned chef Suzanne Goin, paired with an array of the region’s award winning wines, and entertainment provided by the Nate Birkey Jazz Group and a live auction led by celebrity auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski.

The American Riviera Wine Auction is part of an eight-year collaboration between Direct Relief International and Santa Barbara’s wine makers. This partnership has helped raise $1 million for the efforts of Direct Relief International, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit organization focused on improving the quality of life by bringing critically needed medicines and supplies to local healthcare providers worldwide. Recently, Direct Relief International played an integral role in providing aid to victims of the San Diego Wildfires, Cyclone Sidr in Bangladesh, and victims of the storms which ravaged the Southeast United States and took the lives of 52 people just weeks ago.

Tickets for Friday, March 14th can still be purchased by contacting Mann Productions at or by calling 323 314 7000. Tickets for Saturday, March 15th are sold out (wait list only).

Originally published in Noozhawk on March 3, 2008.

Direct Relief’s Home Team

A group of Santa Barbara High School grads is having a positive impact on worldwide healthcare while headquartered in their hometown. No less than four SBHS alumni are part of the 24-person staff at Direct Relief International, the locally based global nonprofit agency that provides essential materials to areas hit by disaster.

Annie Maxwell, a 1997 SBHS graduate, was the first in a wave of Dons. She caught wind of the organization in 2002, when CEO Thomas Tighe was on the cover of Santa Barbara Magazine.

Click here to read this story in Santa Barbara Magazine

“My mom, in probably one of her valiant efforts to try to get all of her children close to home, sent it to me at Michigan when I was at school and said, ‘you should work here,'” said Annie, who started as an unpaid intern and is now Chief of Staff.

She’s currently on special assignment in New York, working at the United Nations under former President Bill Clinton, the Special Envoy for Tsunami Recovery.

In a matter of days, “I went from a warehouse in a beach town to a UN high rise with security and dogs sniffing bombs,” said Annie. “I keep waiting for the director to call cut.”

Her longtime friends — Lucy Anderson, Damon Taugher and Brett Williams, all class of 1998 — are also stoked at their good fortune in being able to have a positive impact on relief efforts such as Hurricane Katrina.

The organization’s gotten this great lift from having them here, said Thomas, who praises his young colleagues as hard working, incredibly smart and disarmingly polite.

Plus their affection and respect for each other and for the mission of Direct Relief is contagious.

“It’s great work because the more you do, the more people are directly affected,” said Brett, the warehouse manager, calling from Ecuador, where he detoured from sightseeing to visit potential partners for Direct Relief.

Lucy also took time off from serving as development manager to visit Direct Relief hospitals while vacationing in Nepal. “It was far and away the highlight of my trip, just seeing the difference that one Direct Relief shipment can make was incredible.”

Based on his own vision, Damon is now directing a new program that has provided $12 million in free medicines to clinics throughout California, a new direction for Direct Relief.

“I don’t think anyone when they’re 14 says ‘wow do you think we could be influential in running the largest international aid organization in California in ten years,'” said Annie. “It’s just not something that you usually say over lunch in the quad. … I was more worried about not failing my English quiz and hoping that we’d beat San Marcos.”

How Direct Relief Helps

Hurricanes Katrina and Rita

August 29 and September 24, 2005

At least 37 tons of medical and personal care supplies–soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc.–have been shipped (FedEx did it free of charge) to at least 41 health facilities in the Gulf region. DRI also donated $1.1 million in cash grants to clinics and hospitals there.

India Flood Disaster

July 26, 2005

More than $800,000 of anti-infective and antiparasitic agents, analgesics, rehydration salts and water purification tablets were sent to the Mumbai Public Health Department.

Earthquake/Tsunami in Southeast Asia

December 26, 2004

More than $32 million in cash and supplies–enough to administer full courses of pharmaceutical treatment to at least three million people–were donated to healthcare facilities and nonprofit organizations in the affected countries.

Southern California Wildfires

October 21-November 4, 2003

With a donation from Alcon Laboratories, 6,000 units of eye lubricant were sent to firefighters and public safety officials in San Diego.

To donate, contact Direct Relief International, 27 S. La Patera Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93117, 805-964-4767,

Originally published in Santa Barbara Magazine in Winter 2006.

Vitamin Angels provide disaster relief

“We never get to choose when a natural disaster will strike. But we always get to choose how we will respond,” said Howard Schiffer, president of Vitamin Angel Alliance, a Santa Barbara-based non-profit dedicated to providing basic nutrition and fighting diseases caused by malnutrition around the world.

Immediately upon hearing the news of last month’s Tsunamis in Southeast Asia, Vitamin Angel issued a call for vitamin donations to help stave off starvation and lessen the likelihood of epidemics and disease.

“In a disaster situation, the infrastructure is usually in shambles. It’s going to be a while before they’re getting any food, clean water and that kind of thing. … The population’s really at risk for opportunistic infections,” Schiffer said.

“People don’t realize is that after a disaster is over, the secondary effect with disease and epidemics spreading could compound the tragedy to a much, much greater level, and that if you can get in there with medicine, and basic nutrients, you could save a part of the population to where they’ll survive until you can get in the other things and get organized.”

It’s to that end that Vitamin Angel is doing what it’s been doing since the 1994 Northridge earthquake, working to help bring emergency nutritional supplies to people who need them most.

Schiffer said people who want to help with the relief effort have responded in droves.

“There are a lot of things that divide us — the religious stuff, political stuff, ideology — and there are some things that bring us together … compassion and caring and trying to help.”

In 2003, Vitamin Angel donated 16.2 million supplements worldwide to people in need, and Schiffer estimates the 2004 total to be about 20 million vitamin supplements.

Citing a study by the World Health Organization, “the number one health risk factor, above cancer, above heart disease, above AIDS, the number one health risk in the world is lack of food,” he said. “The people that we’re working with literally are starving to death.”

And many of the diseases they’re suffering from are inexpensively prevented.

For example, it costs a nickel a year to provide supplements to prevent vitamin A deficiency childhood blindness. In response to this epidemic, Vitamin Angel has partnered with Johnson & Johnson to pilot a program that will reach six million children, lactating mothers and infants in India.

“The single most important intervention we can make in the world today is supply multiple vitamins,” said Schiffer, who began his journey in the vitamin supplement business before a call for help from Direct Relief International set him on his current course.

DRI remains a strong alliance. Vitamin Angel also works with other relief organizations all over the world.

“We believe that every person is entitled to basic nutrition, we believe that malnutrition linked diseases are preventable and we believe that education in addition to supplementation is the key to long-term health,” Schiffer said.

For more information visit or call 565.9919.

Other local Tsunami relief efforts

* Direct Relief International is accepting monetary donations. Go online to or call 964.4767.Checks should have “Tsunami Relief” specified and can be mailed to 27 S. La Patera Lane, Santa Barbara, CA 93117.

* Contact the American Red Cross at 800.435.7669, mail checks to 2705 State St., Santa Barbara, CA 93105 or visit Mid-State Bank branches are also taking Red Cross donations.

* Sri Lanka Medical Relief is selling T-shirts bearing the flags of all 12 countries hit by the tsunamis and a map of Sri Lanka. Call 568.0770 to order a $15 t-shirt, with proceeds going to Tsunami relief.

* Angels Wings Foundation International plans to build 100 homes and an orphanage in Thailand. Send donations to 1482 East Valley Road, Suite 428, Montecito, CA 93108 or email

* New Directions Foundation is taking donations, care of the Santa Barbara Chamber of Commerce, P.O. Box 299, Santa Barbara, CA 93102.

* The nonprofit VeAhavta has asked for donations. To help, call 542.9357 or visit

Originally published in South Coast Beacon