Pinot, cabernet draw top bids at Sonoma County Barrel Auction

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Wine enthusiasts, vintners and trade buyers came out Friday afternoon to MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg, where cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir retained their top spots as the most coveted local varietals during the fifth annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction.

Sonoma County Vintners sponsored the event, which attracted wine buyers from across the country who placed bids on unique wine lots donated by local wineries. Those buyers — typically wine shops and retail outlets — will later resell the wines to their best customers and collectors.

The proceeds support Sonoma County Vintners, a trade group that represents 200 area wineries and wine-affiliated businesses. The nonprofit group also will send 50 percent of the money to associations that represent the 18 different wine regions in Sonoma County.

The overall total from the 85 lots sold Friday was not immediately available, but last year’s bidding resulted in a record $840,700.

Silver Oak Cellars in the Alexander Valley received the top overall bid, selling its 20-case lot of cabernet sauvignon for $40,000, or $167 per bottle, to a Texas grocery chain. Another perennial favorite, William Selyem winery in Healdsburg, sold its 20-case pinot noir lot for $33,500, or $140 a bottle.

Pinot has always been popular at the auction and that trend continued on Friday afternoon. For instance, Michael Browne’s Cirq Estate had its 5-case offering of wine from pinot noir grapes from the Koplen Vineyard in the Russian River Valley sell for $13,500, or $225 per bottle.

Auctioneer John Curley kept the crowd engaged throughout the three-hour bidding process, working in snippets of such songs as “Ice Ice Baby” and “Street Fighting Man” in an effort to boost the prices, including prancing on stage like he was Mick Jagger.

The auction helps promote Sonoma County wines in the global marketplace as the bidders can get a sense of the wide variety of wines that are produced in the region, said Michael Haney, executive director for the vintners.

“This is about creating ambassadors and relationships with Sonoma County. These guys and girls are going to go out around the world now and preach the gospel of Sonoma County,” Haney said.

The auction coincided with a delegation of wine writers and sommeliers from Japan who had been touring the county all week.

Akio Watabe, a sommelier with the Hotel Okura in Tokyo, said he was impressed with the local wineries he visited.

“I was surprised by the diversity of the weather, the diversity of the climate, the diversity of the wine,” Watabe said through a translator.

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

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