A scantily clad samba troupe, costumed in feathers and jewels and little else, created a colorful backdrop for a record-breaking afternoon of bidding at Sunday's Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction. Spiraling bids climbed to $1.4 million, up from last year's take of $750,000.
About 600 people gathered under the magnolia trees at Kenwood's Chateau St. Jean, taking in the Brazilian carnival scene — the Copacabana Bar, the drummers and the colorful masks. The Sonoma Samba theme, the free-flowing bubbly and the auction's trademark hijinks set the stage for a lively afternoon of bidding.
The most suspenseful lot was the Fund-the-Future offering, where a group of bidders pooled their efforts to raise $691,250 to raise local literacy rates. The total dwarfs last year's special needs lot at $264,000.
The big spenders included the Sonoma County vintners of Jackson Family Wines, the Gallo family, Tom Klein of Rodney Strong Vineyards and Joe Anderson of Benovia. The Jackson Family, Gallo and Anderson each contributed $75,000.
Katie Jackson said, "My family cares a lot about education and children. My mom (Barbara Banke) is really devoted to this. She really wanted to make this contribution."
Matt Gallo said "taking care of literacy is an important issue so that's where our family's focus is today."
The second highest lot went for $125,000, with bidders eager for a chance to go to the barn dance and barbecue at MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg. Kate MacMurray and the Gallo family members plan to be on hand with a feast grilled by sausage pro Bruce Aidells.
MacMurray said her father (Fred MacMurray) built the barn in 1941 and "I remember the harvest parties and square dancing ... it's a perfect place to hold the event."
One of the most colorful lots of the day was "Magnum Force" because it was introduced by local samba dancers. Rick and Lori Miron, who own homes in Santa Rosa and Sonoma, bought the lot for $32,000.
"I've won this lot before and it's somewhat of a tradition," Rick Miron said. "I have thousands of bottles of wine and yes, a lot of magnums."
The most excited bidder of the day had to go to John Lasseter, founder of Pixar. "When I won the Benziger lot, I jumped up and down like a maniac," he said.
The Lasseters, who live in Sonoma, paid $17,000 for the lot, which features a dinner party for 33 at the Glen Ellen Star Restaurant.
"We love supporting the auction ... We come with an open heart and an open wallet," said Lasseter, adding this year it felt more unified.
"Sonoma is so diverse and it's one of its strengths but it's also one of its weaknesses," he said. "Some fantastic wine is made in this county. It's nice to bring everybody together to support it."
This year is the first that Sonoma County will have access to all the funds raised at the auction. In prior years, more of it was focused on Sonoma Valley, underscoring a more unified event this year.
But as for statistics, while this may have been a record-breaking year for Sonoma County, Auction Napa Valley continues to trump it. Napa's auction raised $16 million in June, eclipsing both Sonoma County's efforts and the Naples Winter Wine Festival in Florida, which raised $8.5 million in January.