Sonoma County Barrel Auction Up 50%

Second annual event earns nearly $700,000, showcases diverse regions

by Paul Franson
Jean Arnold Sessions Sonoma County Vintners Barrel Auction” welcome=
Jean Arnold Sessions, who has served as interim director of the Sonoma County Vintners since February, announced that she hopes to take over the executive director post permanently. Photo: Sonoma County Vintners
Santa Rosa, Calif.—The Sonoma County Barrel Auction, the second annual trade auction hosted by the Sonoma County Vintners, raised $693,800 on April 29. The total was up more than 50% over last year.

The 75 unique Sonoma County wine lots sold came from 16 of the county’s 17 appellations.

All of the wines were tasted by a group of masters of wine and master sommeliers—and one member of the panel, Evan Goldstein, said they sent some of the barrel lots back to their makers at a tasting in January, though many had been corrected by a second tasting.

Another judge, Liz Thach, the well-known wine business professor from Sonoma State University, added that some lots didn’t even make the cut the second time.

More than 250 members of the licensed wine trade including retail, restaurant and distributor buyers as well as media attended the event at Don and Rhonda Carano’s Vintners Inn.

Most of the lots included five cases, though some included 10 or 20 cases (almost a full barrel).

Each wine was crafted to showcase the region’s quality and diverse grapegrowing and winemaking styles.

Though Pinot Noir was the most popular variety showcased, the auction also included many Chardonnays wines, a surprising number of Cabernets from the county’s warmer regions, field and traditional blends, and wines ranging from Alicante Bouschet/Petite Sirah to Malbec-based blends and old-vine Zinfandels. Healdsburg-based J Vineyards & Winery offered the only sparkler of the auction.

Selections included unique single-vineyard bottlings, specific clonal selections, blends, wines aged using special barrel regimens and joint-lot wines produced by collaborating wineries.

Top lots
Kosta Browne’s “The KB Elixir,” a Pinot Noir comprised of 50% Russian River Valley and 50% Sonoma Coast fruit, fetched the highest bid of the day at $46,000 ($383 per bottle) as the crowd went wild.

Frenetic auctioneer John Curley danced, played compelling music, cajoled bidders and sweated off his jacket in the open tent.

Other top-earning lots at the auction included Williams Selyem winery’s “35th Anniversary Blend” lot of 10 cases of Pinot Noir at $40,000 and 20 cases of Silver Oak Cellars’ “Single Barrel” Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which sold for $33,500.

One lot celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris in 1976. It featured a Chardonnay wine from Bacigalupi Vineyards, which furnished half of the Chardonnay used in Calistoga’s Chateau Montelena wine that beat the best white Burgundies at the historic tasting.

That wine received the highest bid for a white wine at the auction, $15,000 for 20 cases. It was a joint effort of Bacigalupi Vineyards, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Flanagan Wines, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery and MacRostie Winery & Vineyards

Many of the wines sold for less than $6,000 per lot, or $100 per bottle, and some for as little as $50 per bottle. A number of smaller retailers noted that made them more accessible than some of the expensive wines sold at Napa Valley’s equivalent trade auction, Premiere Napa Valley.

Most of the lots came with a huge perk: a visit by the vintner or winemaker to the store or restaurant that bought the lot.

The ambience reflected Sonoma’s mellow reputation with a sit-down lunch before the auction, at which winemakers and vintners including Zin legend Joel Peterson and Kathy Walt Hall (proprietor of Walt Winery in Sonoma as well as Hall Winery in St. Helena) passed through the crowd pouring their auction lots for prospects and other wineries typical of many charity auctions.

This year’s successful bidders will sell these wines under the Sonoma County Barrel Auction wine label.

A few of Sonoma’s largest wineries didn’t offer lots, perhaps to focus attention on the region’s more artisanal wines.

Proceeds from the 2016 Sonoma County Barrel Auction support marketing by Sonoma County Vintners and their AVA partners.

The day before the auction, two events were held to give bidders a chance to taste wines from all over Sonoma County, which is wide and features many narrow winding roads.

A preview event at Comstock Winery in Healdsburg highlighted wines from Sonoma, Alexander and Dry Creek Valleys and also featured a seminar about the county’s AVAs.

Another at Pellegrini Wine Co. near the auction site featured Russian River Valley, Petaluma Gap and West Sonoma Coast wines. It included a seminar about the neighborhoods and regions of western Sonoma County.

Following that, the festival honored four Sonoma County “icons”: Helen Bacigalupi of Bacigalupi Vineyard, Tom Rochioli of J Rochioli Vineyards & Winery, Tom Klein of Rodney Strong Vineyards and David Rafanelli of A. Rafanelli Winery.

During the event, Jean Arnold Sessions, who has served as interim executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners since February, announced that she was “running” for the post permanently, earning loud cheers from the crowd.

Founded in 1946, Sonoma County Vintners represents more than 250 wineries and affiliates of all sizes throughout the county. Learn more at sonomawine.com.

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