Kevin O’Leary, star of the TV show “Shark Tank,” was among the big spenders at Saturday’s Sonoma County Wine Auction, where lots fetched a record-breaking $5.2 million, up from last year’s take of $4.7 million.
About 500 people gathered under the white tent at the La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in Richard’s Grove, the beloved former Windsor property of the late Saralee Kunde and her husband Richard.
The change of venue marked a pivotal year for the organizers, the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers Alliance. This year, for the first time in a decade the auction and the annual Taste of Sonoma were held on separate weekends at new locations, a change of pace that some on hand said worked well.
“I think it’s evolved to be a better auction for Sonoma County,” said Barbara Banke, chairwoman of the board of Jackson Family Wines and the auction’s honorary chairwoman. “A lot of the lots went for record prices this year. The Sonoma County wines are world class, and we have a lot of good bidders from across the country.”
The paddle holders were comfortable in temperatures that hovered around 78 degrees. They sipped on wine and grazed on treats, including Carrot Lox Crostini, Black Mission Fig Pizza, meatloaf sliders and calamari.
The top group lot of the day, Fund the Future, went for $1.8 million, down from last year’s $2.7 million.
Bidders contributed at a range of price points, from $250,000 down to $1,000, and the bidding began with a sentimental touch.
The event is a key fundraiser for local efforts to boost childhood literacy and about two dozen kids took the stage wearing bright yellow shirts and holding black-and-white signs with messages that included “I read every day” and “Bookworm and I’m proud of it.”
Amy Jones Kerr, superintendent of the Roseland School District, told bidders “If a student isn’t reading at grade level by third grade it affects his or her entire educational career and it affects us as a community. Your gifts make it possible for these kids to succeed.”
Top contributors at $250,000 included Jackson Family Wines, the Gallo Family and Lytton Rancheria. Others included Rodney Strong Vineyards, Francis Ford Coppola Winery and Constellation Brands.
The auction supports more than 70 local charities, including health and human services and environmental preservation, with the largest share benefiting children’s literacy.
O’Leary, the “Shark Tank” celebrity, said he flew in from Los Angeles to support the charitable cause, and with hopes to restock his cellars.
He offered $34,000 in one case but was outbid for a lot that included a 25-bottle collection of wines chosen by members of the Sonoma County Vintners.
“I really liked the large-format bottles,” he said. “I have five cellars, two commercial cellars and three in my homes. I thought my bid was pretty good.”
O’Leary, a Boston resident, comes to Sonoma County every few months because he partners with Vintage Wine Estates on his namesake brand. He was impressed by the bidding Saturday.
“They’re really raising a lot of money,” O’Leary said.
One of the two top lots of the day was actually sold twice for a total of $420,000. It featured four VIP tickets to Broadway shows “Hello Dolly!” and “Dear Evan Hansen,” two rooms at the NoMad Hotel in New York City and a winemaker dinner for four at the NoMad Restaurant with Williams Selyem, proprietor John Dyson and director of winemaking Jeff Mangahas.