At Sonoma County Barrel auction, pinot noir remains king

Pinot noir once again took the spotlight Friday afternoon during the third annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction held at the Vintners Inn, though bidders also showed new and significant interest in local cabernet sauvignon.

Pinot noir was the most popular varietal at the fundraising event among the trade buyers, which include wine shops and retail outlets. Those shops will eventually resell the wines to their best customers and collectors.

Three local winemaking veterans also were honored at the event for their contributions to the Sonoma County wine industry. They were Jim Bundschu of Gundlach Bundschu Winery in Sonoma, Jim Pedroncelli of the Pedroncelli Winery in Geyserville and Angelo Sangiacomo of Sangiacomo Family Vineyards in Sonoma.

As in past years, Kosta Browne Winery of Sebastopol and Williams Selyem of Healdsburg attracted much activity for their pinot noir offerings.

“Pinot is so good now consistently throughout the county compared to 10 to 15 years ago,” said Dan Kosta, co-owner of the Kosta Browne Winery, of the local varietal’s continuing popularity in the marketplace.

His winery received the top winning bid of $60,000 for a ?20-case lot from a blend of grapes grown in multiple vineyards in the Sonoma Coast wine region. The price pencils out to $250 per bottle. The wine still must go through fermentation in a range of vessels, from stainless steel tank to wood and concrete open tops, as well as a concrete egg and amphorae, before it is bottled.

The three-hour program featured bidding on 90 different lots of young, unfinished wine that were made by more than 100 different Sonoma County wineries. All 17 American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in the county were represented.

The proceeds from the event will go to the Sonoma County Vintners organization, the county’s main trade group that represents 200 wineries and wine-affiliated businesses.

The third-highest bid went to a Williams Selyem’s 20-case lot at $26,000. The pinot noir lot featured grapes sourced from three of its estate properties: the Williams Selyem Estate, Lewis MacGregor Estate and Drake Estate.

The growth in pinot noir, which last year hit a record high average of $3,669 per ton harvested in the county, has spurred winemakers to tout more sub-regions beyond the popular Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley.

“It’s wonderful,” said Will Phelps, the director of marketing at Joseph Phelps Winery in St. Helena. The winery also has vineyards in Freestone, and a pinot noir wine from a lot there went for $125 a bottle at the Friday auction.

“Pinot is king in Freestone so it’s pleasant to see the growth,” Phelps said. Joseph Phelps and other local vintners are pushing for a West Sonoma region to be recognized by the federal government as an AVA so they can better market their wines.

Cabernet sauvignon lots on Friday attracted more interest than in past years. A Silver Oak 2015 cabernet sauvignon bottling was the second highest lot purchased Friday at $50,000, which equals $208 per bottle. In fact, a five-case cabernet sauvignon lot from Pride Mountain Vineyards in Santa Rosa went for $20,000, which was the highest winning bid on a per-item basis at $333 per bottle.

“It’s all about the diversity here,” said Nate Weis, winemaker for Silver Oak Cellars, which is located in Geyserville as well as Oakville in Napa County.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or On Twitter @BillSwindell.

Bill Swindell

Business, Beer and Wine, The Press Democrat  

In the North Coast, we are surrounded by hundreds of wineries along with some of the best breweries, cidermakers and distillers. These industries produce an abundance of drinks as well as good stories – and those are what I’m interested in writing. I also keep my eye on our growing cannabis industry and other agricultural crops, which have provided the backbone for our food-and-wine culture for generations.

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