Sonoma County Wine Auction raises record $6.1 million

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The Sonoma County Wine Auction on Saturday raised a record-breaking $6.1 million for charitable causes, with the county’s recent designation as the “Wine Region of the Year” adding a jolt of excitement to the annual event.

“The timing couldn’t be better,” said Mike Haney, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners as well as the group’s foundation, after Wine Enthusiast magazine recognized the county on Thursday, two days before the auction that raises money to support nonprofits that aid the underserved.

“It’s great to see our wine community being recognized and for people to have stepped up so generously,” Haney said. “It’s almost overwhelming.”

About 400 people gathered under a white tent at La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard in Richard’s Grove outside Windsor, vying for 40 lots. The contributions will be funneled to local charities, including health and human services and environmental preservation.

In addition to high-profile honorary co-chairs Gina Gallo of E. & J. Gallo and Christopher Jackson of Jackson Family Wines, Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, and Sonoma County supervisors James Gore, Lynda Hopkins and Shirlee Zane were among the paddle holders.

In between bids, the crowd sipped Sonoma County wines and grazed on frittatas, Mediterranean wraps and Yorkshire pudding, among other dishes.

The top group lot of the day — and the most sentimental — was Fund-A-Need, which reeled in $1.6 million. Before bidding began, a pool of paddle holders heard from Juliette Weiss.

The eighth grader, who had lived in nine different foster homes, sang “Make You Feel My Love” by Bob Dylan and recorded in recent years by Adele. The lot is dedicated to building a Boys & Girls Club in Santa Rosa’s Roseland neighborhood, and Weiss explained why these clubs can change the trajectory of one’s life.

“It’s where I learned adults cared about me, and I had never experienced that before,” she said. “It’s where I learned how to become a better person.”

Auctioneer John Curley called for bids from $500 to $250,000. Elizabeth Gore of Healdsburg pledged $5,000 because she said “people need a shot to succeed. Every shred of data reveals that people who are minorities are job creators.”

Gore’s enterprise, helloalice.com, helps women, people of color and veterans become entrepreneurs, guiding them in building their businesses.

The top individual lot of the day — and the most suspenseful — spiraled to $520,000. Bill and Rebecca Sanders of Virginia purchased a lot that offered a 378-bottle collection.

“It’s the greatest wine lot of all time,” Bill Sanders said. “I like the quality of the wine list and the many large formats — the 3-liter bottles and the magnums.”

The couple has a 7,000-bottle cellar, and Bill Sanders joked that this new influx of wine will require them to “move some things around.”

Another lot that drew a great deal of competitive bidding featured the country music band Lady Antebellum. Nancy Oakes, the head chef at San Francisco’s Boulevard, bought the lot for $300,000 because she wanted to enjoy an evening with the band hosted by Christopher and Ariel Jackson.

“My friends and I are buying this,” said Oakes, who won the James Beard Foundation Award for Outstanding Chef in 2001. “It’s just about getting everybody together for a shared experience.”

While the Fund-the-Future was not a designated group lot this year, organizers said the campaign for literacy is still a top priority and will be paid for from the auction’s general contributions.

Marta Tilling, assistant director of school readiness programs, with Community Action Partnership, said she’s grateful the funding will continue.

“We serve up to 500 families in Sonoma County, 0 to 5 years old, focusing on language development and early literacy, with the goal of school readiness,” she said.

The charitable auction began as a humble harvest party for vintners to celebrate the season. The first incarnation — the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction — dates back to 1993. Flexing its philanthropic muscle, the event has grown over the past few years with record-breaking contributions, including Saturday’s record $6.1 million haul.

By comparison, Auction Napa Valley’s weekend take was nearly $12 million in June. The Naples Winter Wine Festival raised more than $15.8 million in January at its live auction.

You can reach Staff Writer Peg Melnik at 707-521-5310 or peg.melnik@pressdemocrat.com.

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