Highlights of the 2023 Sonoma County Wine Auction

Here’s a recap of the best of the best, best bidding strategy, best notables, most playful lot, and best party ever.|

To capture the color of Saturday’s Sonoma County Wine Auction, here’s our list of highlights — the memorable moments, the best bidding strategy, best notables, most playful lot and best party ever. For those who went to the auction and for the curious who didn’t, here are some snapshots.

Best-bidding strategy

Charles Merinoff of Vermont, the co-chairman of New York’s Breakthrough Beverage and paddle holder 349 — shared his tactical plan before the auction began.

“My goal is to bid a lot to help everyone and hopefully only win one lot,” he said, with a laugh. “I’ll bid on multiple lots but If I leave the auction with many lots, I will have failed in my strategy.”

Merinoff has been to the auction about eight times over the years; he circles back to it often, as if a homing pigeon.

“I love Sonoma,” he said. “It’s more Burgundy-based with small farmers, and I love supporting the community.”

When the auction was over, The Press Democrat checked in with Merinoff, who said he was more successful than he imagined. He bid on multiple lots and drove bidding higher in each case but was ultimately outbid on everything.

Best notables

The auction showcases honorary chairs, winemakers and chefs, paying tribute to the best and the brightest.

The honorary chairs this year were James Hall and Anne Moses, the founders of Sonoma’s Patz & Hall Winery. The winery is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year.

The vintner honoree was Stuart Bryan of Pride Mountain Vineyards, while the chef honoree was Duskie Estes of Black Pig Meat Co. and executive director of the nonprofit Farm to Pantry.

Hall encouraged paddle holders to bid and bid often while noting Sonoma County is a powerhouse of good cheer.

“In 2022, Sonoma County grapes made 1.2 billion glasses of wine,” mused Hall, with a broad smile.

Most playful lot

Called the “The Farmer, Butcher, Chef and A Unicorn,” Lot No. 11 was introduced by auction chef honoree Duskie Estes, who paraded around holding an inflatable unicorn to spur bidding.

The lot, which was duplicated, featured a dinner for 10 at her house and a chance to taste unicorn wines from Three Sticks Wines’ prized Monopole collection.

Susan Preston of Healdsburg, chair of the board of directors for the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, said she has no idea why she and her husband Alan bought the lot.

“We had not planned to do it,” she said, shrugging her shoulders. “It was a spur-of-the-moment thing. But I’m pleased I was impulsive.”

The lot spiraled to $58,000 in total, costing each buyer one selling for $29,000. The auctioneer decided to offer the lot twice to capitalize on bidders’ enthusiasm for the lot.

Best Party Ever

During the auction’s string of events, Friday night featured the Best Party Ever, a gathering at Healdsburg’s Rodney Strong Winery.

The evening highlighted music from Los Boleros and a special dance performance by Grupo Folklorico Quetzalen, which started as a senior project at Sonoma Valley High School. There were plenty of wines to sip throughout the evening, with a full lineup of Rodney Strong bottlings on hand.

By the numbers

While auction totals haven’t been tallied yet, organizers hope this year’s fundraising dollars for local causes will surpass last year’s take of $1.8 million.

The local nonprofits benefitting from the auction focus on a range of causes, from health and education to emergency relief for wildfires and floods.

Auction totals are expected to be released later this week.

You can reach wine writer Peg Melnik at 707-521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @pegmelnik.

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