Wine's role in spreading literacy


Thank you so much, all those who attended our Barolo Night on 3 November. Thanks to you, we found ourselves with a surplus and are donating £1,000 to alleviate the terrible current suffering in the Philippines and £1,000 to Room to Read.

We all have our pet charities. Ours, for obvious reasons, is Wine Relief, the wine-related fundraising initiative of the massive, UK-based, national biennial fundraiser that is Comic Relief, whose aim is to make lives better in the UK and in the world's most impoverished continent Africa, and Room to Read, the admirably-run outfit founded in 2000 by our friend John Wood whose aim is to spread literacy throughout the developing world. The picture shows him delivering books by low-overhead yak in the early days in Nepal.

After a high-flying career as a Microsoft executive, he has done a quite extraordinary amount to bring education to literally millions of children in Asia and southern Africa. When Room to Read build libraries or schools, they always do it in conjunction with the local community so that they have a vested interest in making it all work. They publish hundreds of children's books in local languages, and they favour girls with their scholarships on the principle that literate mothers will ensure that their children learn to read. Already there are Room to Read pupils at university in locations where they might not even know how to read if the organisation had not existed. And the rate of growth is extraordinary. John Wood is particularly proud of a graph that continues to show that Room to Read is growing faster than Starbucks. But they keep overheads to an absolute minimum and shamelessly use freebies for travel, accommodation and office space.

Wine has played quite a significant role in the development of Room to Read. Wine galas – well-lubricated dinners followed by conventional auctions and John Wood's unrivalled ability to coax pledges out of well-heeled diners – constitute one of the principal fundraising mechanisms. I have had the privilege of talking about the wines at Room to Read events in London, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney, Shanghai, San Francisco and New York.

Last Thursday saw the most successful London wine gala ever raise a staggering total of £1.8 million in a single evening, helped by considerable matching funds that John Wood had cleverly secured in advance. Big thanks to Berry Bros, who kindly donated some delicious wine. The theme for the evening was South Africa with a heart-rending presentation by RtR's director from that part of the world, Chris Mothupi, who was brought up by his grandmother and rarely saw his mother, who worked as a maid in Johannesburg. We therefore enjoyed a selection of Berry Bros' top South African wines after Bonnaire Grand Cru champagne:

Chamonix Chardonnay 2009 Franschhoek
Mullineux Family White Blend 2011 Swartland
Catherine Marshall Pinot Noir Barrel Reserve 2011 Elgin
Chamonix Troika Bordeaux Blend 2010 Franschhoek

And in Hong Kong, Watsons kindly sponsor the wine. Hong Kong holds the record for the greatest amount raised on a single night and great things are expected from next year's Hong Kong wine gala on Thursday 6 March. But rivalry, encouraged by John Wood, is keen with the Singapore chapter, who will be holding their 2014 wine gala on Friday 14 March. I much look forward to attending both. It would be great to see you there –  if you have a bulging wallet and a generous soul.

And thank you again, all those who bought tickets to our Barolo event.