The Coast News Group
The USAA table at the United Through Reading Storybook Ball on Nov. 5. USAA was awarded the Military Family Leadership Award. Courtesy photo
The USAA table at the United Through Reading Storybook Ball on Nov. 5. USAA was awarded the Military Family Leadership Award. Courtesy photo
ColumnsFood & WineTaste of Wine

Food, wine industries help Storybook Ball assist military families

When my longtime mentor and dear friend Rob Pennoyer, the United Through Reading Storybook Ball committee chair, reached out to me to assist as a committee member, I was all in.

As a retired Navy officer with 23 years of service and knowing UTR’s amazing work, I was excited and cautiously optimistic about reaching out to Taste of Wine & Food friends for donations.

With both industries still in recovery after the pandemic, I was concerned that donations might be tough to come by. After briefing them on what UTR was about, I was lavished with donations to assist our soldiers, sailors, and their families.

Retiring CEO Sally Ann Zoll speaking at United Through Reading Storybook Ball last month,sharing highlights of her 16-year tenure. Courtesy photo
Sally Ann Zoll, the former CEO of United Through Reading, shared highlights of her 16-year tenure at last month’s Storybook Ball. Courtesy photo

As background, UTR keeps military families reading-ready, regardless of the distance separating family members. They stay connected through story time, video recordings, and books sent to them. These stories ease the stress of time apart due to military duty, maintain positive emotional connections and cultivate a love of reading and early childhood literacy.

Service members and veterans can record a story for their family at more than 200 UTR recording locations worldwide and on their mobile devices using UTR’s free and secure reading app.

Since 1989, 2.7 million military members and their families have benefited from the program.

Since 2007, Sally Ann Zoll has served as the organization’s CEO, helping to build, grow, and sustain the program through technology changes, the end of the war on terror and a global pandemic.

She led a team of remote staff long before it was the norm and oversaw the launch of a mobile reading app that makes the UTR program accessible to all service members and veterans, no matter where they are in the world.

Her commitment to military-connected children’s education is always at the forefront of everything she does.
After 16 years of service, Zoll retired this year. One of her favorite ways to reflect on her UTR accomplishments was with a glass of Rombauer Chardonnay.

With this knowledge, I knew that Rombauer’s director of marketing, Heather McCarthy, whom I had the pleasure of meeting a few years back while visiting the Rombauer Vineyard, would be able to assist.

“Military veterans and first responders are one of the pillars we give to each calendar year,” McCarthy said. “Our founder, Koerner Rombauer, has been referred to as ‘red, white and blue through and through’ by many in the company. He flew for the California Air National Guard, and his grandson now serves in the United States Air Force.”

With this deep-seated commitment to our military, Rombauer was kind enough to discount wine for the event significantly. Attendees could purchase Rombauer Chardonnay for their tables or purchase bottles to donate to Zoll to thank her for her above-and-beyond service. Thank you, Heather and Rombauer!

After reaching out to master winemaker Daniel Daou at Daou Family Estates, he was kind enough to donate two certificates for Daou’s Exclusive Tasting Experience that includes a vineyard tour, barrel tasting and lunch for four guests valued at $800 per certificate and a Daniel Daou-signed bottle of their flagship wine, Soul of a Lion.

One of the certificates and Soul of a Lion was part of the live auction that raised $3,000! Daniel, your love and generosity are unbounded. San Diego wineries and eateries were also in on the action. Gianni Buonomo, Orfila and Coomber Craft Wines each donated winemaker tastings.

Thank you to winemakers Keith Rolle, Andrew Wisniewski and Skip Coomber for taking time out of their busy schedules to share their winemaking stories.

Proprietor Sal Ercolano donated gift certificates for his Flora Bar & Kitchen and The Butcher Shop restaurants.

Victor Magalhaes, proprietor of Vittorio’s Italian Trattoria, sponsored wine dinners for two for his monthly wine dinners.

Proprietor/executive chef Randy Smerik of Solare Ristorante donated a gift certificate for dinner at Solare.

Kary Favish, The Crosby Baker, donated a gift certificate for a lucky recipient to relax and let her ease the stress of the hustle and bustle of holiday baking.

Lastly, thanks to Teri Bush, whom I met at The Butcher Shop’s Daou wine dinner, who donated a collection of Longaberger baskets.

I was genuinely humbled by this outpouring that raised over $6,000 for UTR supporting our military. For our readers, please thank these amazing businesses the next time you have the privilege of using them.

I was also impressed with UTR’s Military Family Leadership Award for insurance company USAA on its 100th anniversary of supporting military families.

Even though the Storybook Ball is in the rear mirror, those wanting to support this fantastic cause can find more information at

— Story by Rico Cassoni

Wine Bytes

— Solare is hosting an Italian Christmas Eve Dinner, with a special 4-course dinner that Executive Chef Denice Grande is designing. Lots of menu choices, a “Feast of 7 Fishes” selection and a kid’s menu. The cost is $68/per person. Tables indoors and outdoors on the heated patios. Seating is limited. Reserve now at 619-270-9670.

— Update on event previously listed: Descobres is teaming up with Winebow Imports for its Wines of the World event on Feb. 26 at San Diego’s Westgate Hotel. 60-plus limited edition, highly rated wines from over 30 producers across Europe and the Americas will be poured. This will be a limited-entry event without crowded tasting tables. The cost is $119 per person (1 to 2 p.m. industry/media, 2 to 5 p.m. general public). Buy tickets and see the wine list at