Frenetic bidding at exclusive Sonoma County Barrel Auction

The first Sonoma County Barrel Auction went off smoothly Friday afternoon as a group of buyers bought wine futures from some of the county’s top growers, resulting in $461,700 that will go to the Sonoma County Vintners trade group.

For most attendees, the event at the Vintners Inn represented a chance for those in the industry to mingle and show off their select wines, some of which included winemakers teaming up, a type of partnership seen more in the craft beer world. It was billed as the premiere of a new annual event.

Meanwhile, buyers representing retailers eyed a chance to purchase one or more of the select 71 lots of between five and 20 cases that were offered up in the fast-paced auction, which they would likely resell for profit, depending on the final bid.

But for Limeng Stroh, it was anything but a relaxing Friday afternoon spent sampling some of the country’s finest wines while nibbling on pork loin and organic fingerling potatoes. It was more like a combination of being in the pit at the Chicago Board of Trade and having the nimble finger skills of a champion video gamer.

Stroh, chief executive officer at Full Circle Wine Solutions in San Carlos, spent the two hours frenetically texting and bidding as a proxy buyer for Glen Knight, the senior wine buyer for The Wine House in Los Angeles. Knight was looking for some rare bottlings that he could offer to his customers.

To make matters worse, Stroh had to fill in near the end for Michael Jordan of K&L Wine Merchants when he left before the auction ended.

“I was hoping because I was doing a good job he (Jordan) gave me his paddle, but it was too much responsibility,” Stroh said.

Stroh already had plenty of responsibility, as Knight came into the event with a history as a big spender. He paid $260,000 for a lot of 2012 cabernet sauvignon offered by Scarecrow Wine during last year’s Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Auction. That bid came out to $4,300 per bottle.

“He gave me his (maximums). We were texting back and forth what the atmosphere was like, and who was bidding,” she said. “It’s very competitive between them.”

And it came as no surprise that Knight tied with the largest bid on Friday on a 2014 Russian River Valley pinot noir made by Joseph Swan Vineyards, Williams Selyem Winery and Kosta Browne Winery at $24,000, or $100 per bottle. They labeled their wine The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost, and it is a blend from all three of the vineyards from Swan clones. It will be bottled this fall.

“It’s a precious lot. It’s premium and amazing wineries at that. It’s just curiosity on how it would turn out,” she said.

The auction was definitely a good day for Williams Selyem in Healdsburg as the other largest bid was on its 2014 pinot noir from the Russian River Valley that was made of seven different heritage clones from 10 vineyards.

The lot sold for $24,000, or $100 per bottle, to Drew Goodgame of Parthos Ventures in San Rafael, a Internet-based concierge service.

“We have been very big fans of the Williams Selyem wines. One of my favorites was the ’96 Coastlands. It was a rare opportunity to be able to get that kind of quantity, that kind of quality, and to be able to offer that to some of our best clients,” Goodgame said. “We would looking for the best of the best.”

Unlike the Sonoma Wine Harvest Auction that is held annually around Labor Day weekend as a consumer event and last year raised $4 million for local charities, Friday’s event was strictly market-based for trade buyers who were thinking about how they could eventually sell the bottles at retail.

“I think your biggest challenge is not to let your passion get in the way of the ledger,” Goodgame said. “We are hopeful we will make a profit on it. We are not here to do volunteer work for Williams Selyem.”

The event also served to highlight Sonoma County as a premium wine region, hoping to capitalize on the same type of buzz Napa uses for its wine auction, which raised $6 million this year, and has attracted increased media attention in recent years. It also will bolster the operating budget of the Sonoma County Vintners, which was $1.5 million in 2013.

“I think the quality was exceptionally high,” said Bob Paulinksi, senior vice president for BevMo!, who served on a sommelier panel that helped select the lots.”It was extremely consistent and at a high level.”

Corey Beck, president of the vintners trade group and president and director of winemaking at Francis Ford Coppola Winery in Geysersville, was a little more blunt in a speech to the crowd before the bidding:

“We have some kick-ass wines up there.”

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 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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