Harvest hopes fuel Sonoma wine auction
Published: Sunday, September 2, 2012 at 3:00 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, September 3, 2012 at 7:18 a.m.
High energy, enticing sales lots and high hopes for the harvest drove up bidding Sunday afternoon at the 20th annual Sonoma Valley Wine Auction and raised a record $730,000, up $130,000 from last year.
More than 550 guests gathered under the tent at Chateau St. Jean winery in Kenwood to enjoy the vibrant colors, flavors and sounds of Bollywood during the final event of the three-day Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which grossed $1.65 million, up $350,000 from last year.
Auctioneer David Reynolds, who launched the first auction 20 years ago, drove bidding up on lots that ranged from trips to India and Paris to collections of high-end pinots and cabernets.
The weekend, organized by the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma Valley Vintners & Growers Foundation, serves as the premier showcase for the county's bounty of food and wine while raising money for local charities. This year's beneficiaries are the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma Valley and Central Sonoma County.
A special "Fund-a-Need" lot for the Boys & Girls Clubs also raised a record $252,000. Elise Bulger of Healdsburg, a member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Sonoma County board of directors, got the ball rolling on the group bidding with a high bid of $50,000.
One of the most popular lots, the "Magnum Force" collection of 76 bottles, went to Rick and Lori Miron of Santa Rosa for $25,000, which tied for the top bid of the day from a single bidder.
"We've gotten it for the last couple of years," said Rick Miron, who works for TricorBraun WinePak, the main sponsor of the auction.
The lot was introduced by a troupe of two dozen women from the Sonoma County wine industry who danced around the stage in colorful, Indian garb.
Tying for the top bid of the day were Mark and Terri Stark of Santa Rosa, who bid $25,000 for a trip to New Orleans that will be hosted by Dan Kosta and Michael Browne of Kosta Browne Winery.
Mark Stark, who owns four restaurants in Sonoma County, catered the new Sonoma Starlight Supper Club dinner Friday night that kicked off the weekend at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geyserville. That sold-out event served 100 guests gathered on the winery's front patio and an additional 400 seated seated around the pool for a casual barbecue catered by Jeff Mall of Zin Restaurant and Carlo Cavallo of Meritage in Sonoma.
Cavallo also served food to 1,200 gathered at the Taste of Sonoma on Saturday at MacMurray Ranch, then came back Sunday to cook a dish for the five-course luncheon at the auction. "I've been drinking a lot of espresso," said Cavallo, who won the Sonoma Steel Chef Competition Saturday for the first time.
Many chefs and guests were pleased that the auction had returned to Chateau St. Jean, which hasn't hosted the event since 1997. "It's a lot more open, and a little more upscale," said Greg Windisch of Santa Rosa. "And it's right in the heart of the valley."
"We're happy to bring people back to the center of the valley," said Nicole Carter, vice president of public relations at Chateau St. Jean. "I hope they ask us back next year."
Chateau St. Jean's winemaker, Margo Van Staaveren, and her husband, Don, served as honorary co-chairs of the event this year. But the couple did not attend because of the death of their 22-year-old son in a skateboard accident earlier last week.
"We will be thinking of Margo and Don and be honoring them with every dollar we raise today," Squire Fridell, the emcee, told the crowd. "They wanted me to tell all of you how honored they are to be a part of this."
The Robert Young Family and Vineyards hosted a special dinner Saturday night for more than 125 guests at the venerable Alexander Valley winery. Most of the chardonnay grown by the family goes to Chateau St. Jean, which pioneered vineyard-designated wines in 1975 by putting the Robert Young vineyard name on its chardonnay label.
Jim Young of Robert Young Vineyards said chardonnay grapes are about a week to 10 days behind the normal schedule, but he expects the harvest to go smoothly.
"Everybody is upbeat," he said. "The weather's been great, and everything's looking good for the next two months."
Winemakers attending the event echoed his optimism about the harvest, which will be picking up speed in the next few weeks.
"This year has been consistently warm, and the vines set a heavier crop," said Greg Morthole, winemaker for Rodney Strong Wine Estates. "I'm expecting a bountiful crop of a much-better-than-average vintage."
Joe Benziger, winemaker at Imagery Estate Winery in Glen Ellen, said he will welcome a normal harvest after five years of challenges.
"Last year at the auction, there weren't even grapes that were ripe," he said.
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