2018 Volunteer Grant Honorees: John & Biserka Potrebic

John, an Electronics Engineer, and aspiring winemaker, and Biserka, a Language Teacher, met and fell in love in their native homeland, Croatia. Biserka says that it took some convincing to feel that John would be a suitable partner. John comments that it was love at first sight for him. This year, they will celebrate their 59th wedding anniversary.

Together, they raised a son and daughter who aspired into medical and engineering careers that brought them into California. In 1999, they chose to retire and joined their son who had started a family in Calistoga. John quickly realized that a life of golf wasn’t enough to keep them feeling like productive members of their new community, and started volunteering for the many events they saw promoted to the Napa Valley.

As self-proclaimed “Professional Volunteers,” they bonded with the Wine Celebration from the referral of volunteers Francesca and Joe Daotti, who commented how much fun they would have assisting the cause. Sharing the loss of their fathers to the disease many years ago, Biserka and John willingly pursued roles.

John admittedly enjoyed the interaction with the auction guests most, while Biserka preferred the behind the scenes roles of packaging items. One year, as an auction spotter, Biserka realized the significance of the dollars being raised. “The guests were so dedicated to raising money for Jimmy V,” she recalls, “It’s not only a way to meet new people. This is a worthy cause.”

It wasn’t until 2015, that they realized the importance of the support and fundraising efforts on a personal level; after a routine check-up with her physician revealed elevated bloodwork levels, Biserka was diagnosed with Stage 1 bladder cancer.

“I did not think I would get cancer.”

Early detection and treatment has been a blessing for Biserka. Cyclical treatments that maintain her being cancer-free are the new norm. Some days are better than others. They have now volunteered for the Wine Celebration for 19 years, and argue that this anniversary year may be their last. Having now collected a volunteer shirt for every year, John comments that he enjoys wearing them still throughout the summer, just so people will ask about the foundation.









We’re honored to have Biserka & John as our 20th Anniversary Volunteer Grant recipients, who have chosen to direct their grant toward Bladder Cancer Research, in their name.

Beth Novak Milliken – In memory of Mary Weber Novak: 2018 Vintner Grant Honoree for Breast Cancer Research

Mary’s husband, Jack, died in November of 1977, when they were both just 44 years of age, leaving her a widow with a large property and five children. She discovered a lump in her breast in 1978 and when she went to see a doctor in Napa, he told her not to worry – she did not have a family history and so he felt she had nothing to worry about. Thankfully, she followed her intuition and went to see a doctor she trusted. He had her undergo surgery immediately. She was diagnosed with malignant breast cancer that was in a few lymph nodes. After the surgery, she underwent chemotherapy for a full year in Napa. She was very sick, yet she persevered, and kept her family together through it all at the Spottswoode Estate.

Mary lived cancer-free for 38 years, until lymphoma was discovered in August of 2016. Though her mind and spirit were strong, her body was unable to handle the onslaught of chemotherapy for the second time. She died, unexpectedly, on September 25, 2016, at age 84.

“Based on her strength, it never once occurred to me that my mother would not make it through her treatment the second time around.”