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Sonoma County Wine Auction returns at Healdsburg’s Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards

Live Auction totals of the Sonoma County Wine Auction

2021: $1.7-plus million

2020: $1.17 (virtual auction)

2019: $6.1 million

2018: $5.7 million

2017: $5.2 million

There were plenty of spiraling bids at the main attraction of the Sonoma County Wine Auction on Saturday, with signs the charitable fundraiser entering its fourth decade could surpass last year’s take of $1.7-plus million.

”Farming and agriculture have always had their challenges, but the wildfires, the drought and supply chain issues have complicated everything,” said Michael Haney, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners. “Yet the inspiration we see every year is how our wine community responds to all these challenges.”

This year’s gathering at Healdsburg’s Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery followed the return of the event last year after an in-person hiatus due to the pandemic.

In 2020, the auction had a virtual event, raising $1.17 million. But the auction continues to be regarded as the largest wine charity event in Sonoma County. It raised a record-breaking $6.1 million in 2019 at its in-person auction, when 400 bidders jockeyed for 40 lots.

Put on by the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation, the fundraiser benefits local nonprofits. They range from community health and childhood education to the emergency relief efforts of the pandemic, fires and floods. In addition to the live auction, online bidding on a selection of other lots extends to Sept. 20 at sonomacountywineauction.com.

This year about 225 people vied for 30 lots, and the offerings ranged from rare wine collections to trips in the United States and abroad.

The event was outdoors in the covered arena, the former equestrian center of Chalk Hill, a winery celebrating its 50th year. With temperatures in the mid-70s, the event was spared from the rains forecast to arrive Sunday, making for a pleasant afternoon of sipping and bidding.

Paddle-holders strategized while tasting through Sonoma County wines and grazing on dishes including wagyu meatballs as well as adobo-glazed chicken and purple potato skewers.

The largest group lot was Fund-A-Need, which targets children’s education and literacy programs. The lot was offered to a pool of individual paddle holders in increments, beginning at $100,000 down to $500. Last year Fund-A-Need raised $550,000, and in 2019 it reeled in $1,613,000.

Billy Harris of San Francisco said he’s partial to that lot and cause, donating to it for years.

“Obviously it would be fun to buy a lot we could partake in, but what’s most important is giving money directly to charities and organizations in Sonoma County,” said Harris, who owns St. Clair, an events and catering service in San Francisco.

Another popular offering — a trip to Paris and Burgundy — was so competitive the lot was duplicated, fetching $110,000.

Mary Dewane and Joe Anderson, vintners of Santa Rosa’s Benovia Winery, snagged the lot for $55,000. Then Boisset offered to duplicate the $55,000 lot for Lehn and Richard Goetz, vintners of Windsor’s Rancho Coyote Vineyards.

The offering features a 4-day stay for two couples in Paris and Beaune, tours and tasting at Boisset Collection properties, and a 24-bottle collection of Burgundy from vintner Jean-Charles Boisset’s personal cellar.

“We love Jean-Charles (Boisset) and we want to support the causes today and help those most in need,” Dewane said.

Lehn Goetz, initially outbid, said she was happy Boisset was willing to replicate the lot.

“I just thought, ‘what an iconic opportunity to travel with Jean-Charles (Boisset)’,” she said. “We love his wines and we love Burgundy.”

A popular stateside offering, which sold for $8,500, was Lot #4, Wine & Dine with Sonoma County’s Leading Men. It features a gathering with notables including Rick Tigner, CEO, Jackson Family Wines; Bob Cabral, winemaker/founder, Bob Cabral Wines; and Carmen Castaldi, president, Rodney Strong Vineyards. It also includes lunch for 12 at Santa Rosa’s Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens, as well as a 156-bottle collection of wine.

Greg Biagi of Napa’s Biagi Brothers in Napa snapped up the lot.

“Rick Tigner and Barbara Banke (chairman and proprietor of Jackson Family Wines) are good friends of mine,” Biagi said. He added that he has plenty of friends who would like to feel like insiders at a gathering with these leading men.

The auction festivities began Thursday with vintner dinners throughout Sonoma County. Friday night featured a Roaring Twenties costume Party at Sonoma’s Buena Vista Winery.

Nicholas Casagrande, CEO and founder of NC Financial Group in San Francisco, was at the Roaring Twenties party in vintage clothing, complete with suspenders and a black top hat.

“I had a visceral reaction to the comraderie, the coming together of the wine community for a common goal,” Casagrande said of the charitable cause.

The auction showcases the county’s winemakers and chefs, paying tribute to the best and the brightest each year. This year the vintner honoree was Boisset, CEO of the family-owned Boisset Collection. Boisset’s Sonoma County portfolio includes Buena Vista Winery, DeLoach Vineyards and Healdsburg’s Oakville Grocery.

“As a Burgundian from a tiny village, I discovered this amazing place when I was 11 years old and I knew I wanted to be in this place of possibilities,” Boisset said. “We’re honored to support the Sonoma County Wine Auction for another year of essential fundraising.”

The chef honoree was Dustin Valette, owner of his namesake Valette restaurant and co-owner of the Matheson in Healdsburg.

“I’m born and raised in Sonoma County, and I’m honored to be involved in this community-focused event,” Valette said. “We’re very fortunate to have all these amazing people to showcase the best of their brands ‒ food, wine and hospitality.”

The auction traces its roots back to 1993 as the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. The philanthropic tradition took off from there, raising $39 million since its inception.

“The funds raised at the auction will be distributed to many Sonoma County non-profits who work tirelessly to care for those most in need,” said Bill Foley of Foley Family Wines, chairman of this year’s auction.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com or 707-521-5310.

Peg Melnik

Wine, The Press Democrat

Northern California is cradled in vines; it’s Wine County at its best in America. My job is to help you make the most of this intriguing, agrarian patch of civilization by inviting you to partake in the wine culture – the events, the bottlings and the fun. This is a space to explore wine, what you care about or don’t know about yet.

Live Auction totals of the Sonoma County Wine Auction

2021: $1.7-plus million

2020: $1.17 (virtual auction)

2019: $6.1 million

2018: $5.7 million

2017: $5.2 million

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