If there was any doubt what wine grape varietal is king in Sonoma County right now, bidding Friday afternoon at the second annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction eliminated it.
Pinot noir rules.
A 10-case lot of pinot noir wine from the Kosta Browne Winery in Sebastopol fetched the highest bid, at $46,000, during the auction held at the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa. That figure translated to a cost of $383 per bottle for the buyer, a Texas-based grocery chain.
Overall, the event featured wines from more than 80 producers and raised $693,800 from 75 lots for the Sonoma County Vintners, the trade group and event sponsor. The proceeds were up more than 50 percent from the inaugural event last year.
The top bid for Friday was not a surprise, as Kosta Browne is one of the hottest brands in the Sonoma County. Its pinot noir is lauded by critics and the company has a three-year waiting list for new customers wanting to purchase its wines.
“It’s not only an affirmation of what we are doing … but it’s really adding value to what Sonoma County is doing,” said co-founder Dan Kosta.
Kosta Browne’s “KB Elixir,” produced in 2015, came from multiple vineyards, with 50 percent of the grapes from the Russian River Valley and 50 percent from the Sonoma Coast wine region.
The second-highest bid, $41,000, was for a 20-case lot of pinot noir from Headsburg-based Williams Selyem Winery. The wine was made from five different vineyards — 80 percent from the Russian River Valley and 20 percent from the Sonoma Coast. The purchase price translated to a per-bottle cost of $170. The wine, also produced in 2015, was a tribute to Williams Selyem’s 35th anniversary, using grapes from the historic Allen, Hirsch, Olivet Lane and Rochioli vineyards, as well as its own estate.
Mark Malpiede, vice president of sales and marketing for Williams Selyem, said the auction gave winemaker Jeff Mangahas a chance to experiment because he wouldn’t typically mix grapes from different wine regions.
“Business is as a good as ever,” Malpiede said.
That can be also said for pinot noir, as it brought in $3,529 per ton during the 2015 harvest in Sonoma County. The harvest value represented a 9 percent increase from the previous year, totaling $107 million value.
After covering expenses, Sonoma County Vintners will split the proceeds with groups representing the county’s 17 wine regions, formally known as American Viticultural Areas.
This year, the vintners group also split the ticket sales for the event to assuage the local AVA groups, said interim executive director Jean Arnold. Some were disappointed they didn’t receive more money from revenue sharing that generated $461,700 from the first auction.
As for Kosta, he said he is still excited about the future for his company even after buying up 20 acres of vineyards and moving into the Barlow complex in Sebastopol. Last year, a Boston-based investment firm bought a controlling stake in the winery, which sells 90 percent of its bottles direct to consumers and the other 10 percent to restaurants.
“The best part of pinot noir is that we still have so much left to do,” Kosta said. He said the winery is interested in purchasing more estate vineyards.