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The “Best Party Ever” unfolded Thursday night on a grassy hillside that was on fire a little less than a year ago.

The ambitiously named event, with wine tasting and dance music under the stars, served as the kickoff for the Sonoma County Wine Auction, which on Saturday will have the determined goal of raising more than $5 million for local nonprofits.

The party was also the first in a series of events commemorating the wildfires that ravaged Sonoma County in October, killing 24 people and destroying more than 5,300 homes.

Fittingly, the venue for the event put on by the Sonoma County Vintners was Paradise Ridge Winery on Thomas Lake Harris Drive, the winery hit the hardest by the fires and now set to launch a major rebuilding project in October.

“We’re celebrating, healing and raising money, all very important to Sonoma County,” winery co-owner Sonia Byck-Barwick said.

The Tubbs fire destroyed a winemaking building, a tasting and events center, three homes and several outbuildings at Paradise Ridge, a popular wedding venue that features a sculpture garden and the two-story LOVE sign.

The wind-driven fire, which raced from Calistoga to Santa Rosa the night of Oct. 8, continued downhill and obliterated nearly 1,300 homes in the Coffey Park neighborhood.

Adam and Lidia Granneman were awakened by their then 6-month-old daughter, Esmaie, and fled from the flames in a car with the child and two dogs.

The couple were among the scores of fire survivors and first responders invited to the party at the winery’s amphitheater, overlooking a vast panorama of the Santa Rosa Plain and offering a stunning orange sunset over the hills west of Sebastopol.

Adam said it was “awesome” that the vintners group had pledged a portion of the wine auction proceeds to fire recovery, with a focus on housing.

Lidia said the party invitation was a rarity for the parents of a now 17-month-old girl.

“It’s a date night for us,” she said. “We never get out.”

And fire survivors need all the help they can get. “People are still struggling emotionally, mentally, financially,” she said.

The couple moved into their rebuilt home on Aug. 17, their five-year wedding anniversary.

Since its inception, the wine auction has raised more than $29 million and contributed to 95 nonprofits in Sonoma County. The funds have gone to support school literacy programs and environmental projects, as well as health, arts and culture programs. Fire relief was added to the mix this year.

“It just seemed this was the right thing for us to do at the right time,” said George Hamel Jr., honorary chairman of the wine auction and co-owner of Hamel Family Wines in Sonoma.

The wine auction aims to do it all at once as deep-pocketed wine lovers, who paid $2,500 for their tickets, will bid on 41 lots Saturday at La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in Windsor.

Lots feature fine wines and exotic getaways, such as tickets to Centre Court for the Wimbledon men’s tennis final match and a stay at a private castle in Italy.

The vintners group hopes to break last year’s record $5.2 million in auction proceeds.

Lot 22, designated as the “fund-a-need paddle raise,” will offer the winning bidder nothing but satisfaction, as all of his or her bid will go to the fire relief fund, said Mike Haney, executive director of the vintners group.

Karissa Kruse, president of the Sonoma County Winegrowers, applauded the move, as both an industry member and a fire survivor who fled from the flames that destroyed her Fountaingrove home.

Kruse said she got out with little more than the watch her father received for working 25 years at IBM and gave to her on her birthday last August.

“I’m proud to be a partner of theirs,” she said, referring to the vintners, “and proud to be here.”

The fire had a serendipitous turn for Kruse, who wound up moving in with her boyfriend, west county grape grower Steve Dutton, who’s also president of the Sonoma County Farm Bureau.

The party got started with Paradise Ridge sparkling wine poured in a parking area, and 35 wineries pouring their wares at a row of booths that included gourmet hors d’oeuvres from local restaurants.

Shortly after dark, the band — Big Swing & the Ball Room Blasters — started playing.

Tickets for the wine auction are available online at sonomacountywineauction.com.

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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