Mending a split that lasted 20 years, vintners throughout Sonoma County recombined forces Sept. 1 and raised a record $1.4 million at the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction. That is nearly twice last year’s haul, and by the end of the three-day Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, vintners raised a record $2.5 million for local charities.
This year’s auction was the first truly countywide auction in two decades. Vintners in Sonoma County and Sonoma Valley parted ways in 1993, emphasizing a long-standing divide between valley and county, and each pursued their own wine events. “One of the strengths of Sonoma is its diversity, but from a fund-raising standpoint in the past, that has also been a weakness,” said John Lasseter, the Pixar/Disney animation executive and local vintner. “It’s exciting to see Sonoma County come together today.”
About 600 people gathered on the lawn Sunday at Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood, which was decked out in a colorful Brazilian theme. It was a who’s who of Sonoma wine and food: Dan Kosta and Michael Browne, Joel Peterson of Ravenswood, Katie Jackson of Jackson Family Wines, Craig Haserot of Sojourn, Bachelor star Ben Flajnik of Envolve, James Hall of Patz & Hall and Don Van Staaveren of Three Sticks, to name a few. (Wine Spectator was one of several sponsors of the auction.)
With an early harvest already in high gear, many winemakers and growers had left the fields and fermentation tanks long enough to wash their hands and join the party.
The dramatic high point of the live auction came during the Fund-the-Future lot, in which school children from the area paraded on stage to the song “ABC” by the Jackson Five. After dozens of bidders pledged individual amounts, the grand total reached $691,250, which will go toward childhood literacy programs in the county.
There were 34 lots in all. The Gallo family lot raised $125,000 for a barn dance and barbecue for 50 couples at MacMurray Ranch. Ram’s Gate raised $40,000 for a seven-day golf trip to Scotland, while the top individual lot of the day went for $55,000 for a complete kitchen makeover sponsored by Jean-Charles Boisset, owner of DeLoach and Buena Vista wineries.
The weekend’s other main event was Saturday’s Taste of Sonoma. A crowd of about 2,500 enjoyed wine seminars and cooking classes and roamed through tents devoted to the wines of the county’s appellations: Russian River, Alexander, Dry Creek and Sonoma valleys. About 200 wineries poured samples, including Dutton-Goldfield, Benovia and Medlock Ames. More than 60 area chefs offered food pairings like salmon tartar from Nick's Cove in Point Reyes and braised pork belly with watermelon and jalapeño vinaigrette from El Dorado Kitchen in Sonoma.