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Wine County Weekend to benefit child literacy in Sonoma County

More than half of all third-graders in Sonoma County are reading below the recommended level for their grade.

That startling statistic caught the eye of the wine industry, and has become the main focus of fundraising efforts for the upcoming Sonoma Wine Country Weekend.

“It's surprising,” said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners, about the literacy rate. “And we also recognize that as you dig a little bit deeper, that's the rate all across Sonoma County, but there are pockets of Sonoma County where it's even higher.”

Raising local literacy rates has become a central focus of the fundraising efforts of two local winery groups, the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers' Alliance. The two groups will host the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction, one of many events during their annual Sonoma Wine Country Weekend over Labor Day weekend.

Proceeds from “Fund the Future,” by far the largest of the 35 lots offered at the Sept. 1 auction, will be donated to three programs that help children with reading. The goal is to raise the third-grade literacy rate to 90 percent by 2018, Comfort said.

“We saw that there was an opportunity here to really select one cause, one focus, and make a big impact on the community,” she said. “We also wanted to invest where there was momentum building, and some sort of tools in place to help address the problem.”

Last year, the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction brought in a gross total of $750,000, a record amount, said Maureen Cottingham, executive director of the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Alliance. Of that, $483,500 was distributed to 32 local charities, including about $264,000 to the charities funded by that year's Fund the Future lot. Organizers hope to raise about $400,000 through the Fund the Future lot this year, she said.

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