The downturn in the dot-com economy didn't put too much of a dent in Saturday night's Auction of Washington Wines, a fundraiser for a Seattle children's hospital. The Aug. 25 event brought in $1.5 million, down only $100,000 from last year's record total of $1.6 million.
"Given this economy, we're thrilled with the amount of money that was raised for a worthwhile cause," said Ted Baseler, CEO of Stimson Lane Vineyards & Estates, which owns the auction's host winery, Chateau Ste. Michelle. "We were especially elated at the interest in collectible Washington wines."
Some 650 attendees (down from 750 last year) filled a tent on the back lawn at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville, Wash., where local chefs prepared dishes such as heirloom-tomato gazpacho with spot prawns, and pan-seared halibut with sweet corn and chanterelle ragout. The guests laughed along with the featured entertainer, comedian Bill Cosby, and raised their paddles to support the uncompensated-care program at the Children's Hospital and Regional Medical Center in Seattle.
The annual event, formerly known as the Auction of Northwest Wines, has raised $8.9 million for the hospital in its 14 years, with auction bidding fueled heavily by the success of Microsoft and other high-tech leaders in the local economy. But with the technology industry's recent financial woes, auction organizers were worried that they wouldn't have the usual turnout.
"Three months ago we were starting to panic. [The event] is usually sold out by then," said Baseler. "But we got a late rush, and it seemed to be that we had a denser crowd of true wine-oriented people."
Among the wine-savvy guests was Seattle Mariners pitcher Jamie Moyer, whose wife noticed an ad for the event and bought tickets because of their interest in wine. They also brought along one of Moyer's teammates, all-star designated hitter Edgar Martinez.
The auction's biggest single lot, as usual, was the "Raise Your Paddles" segment -- simply a request to give money to the hospital at various donation levels. With matching funds, that lot alone brought in $635,250 (down from $785,000 last year).
At the Washington auction, the highest single bid often is made for a lot involving the evening's featured performer. This year it was dinner for six at the Striped Bass restaurant in Philadelphia with Bill Cosby, and it went for $50,000. Cosby never mentioned wine in his hour-long comedy set, appending only a few swipes at the local delight in the Mariners' 2001 success to his usual rib-tickling commentary on getting older, the trials of marriage, Father's Day presents and the differences between friends and wives.
Another mostly non-wine lot, an inlaid stone patio-table made by patients at the children's hospital, went for $25,000. The winning bidder also got a 9-liter bottle of Snoqualmie Syrah 1999.
The top wine-related lot at this year's auction was dinner for 12 at the Metropolitan Grill in Seattle with two of Washington's highest-profile winemakers. For the winning bid of $18,000, Gary Figgins of Leonetti Cellars and Rick Small of Woodward Canyon Winery promised to raid their cellars for wines to go along with the steaks.
Dinners with big-name Washington wine producers drew several high bids, including $15,000 for an eight-person dinner and vertical tasting of Col Solare -- a red wine made in a joint venture between Antinori of Italy and Chateau Ste. Michelle -- with Col Solare managing director Bob Betz. Guests will also receive magnums of Col Solare to take home.
The Washington Association of Wine Grape Growers donated a helicopter run through eastern Washington, with visits and tastings in vineyards in the Columbia River, Red Mountain and Walla Walla appellations all in one day. The tour brought in $13,000.
The top wine-only lot was an 18-liter bottle of DeLille Cellars Yakima Valley Chaleur Estate Red 1998, which sold for $14,000. An 18-liter bottle of Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series 1999 went for $12,000. Five imperials (6-liter bottles) of yet-to-be-made 2001 vintage wines from the new Red Mountain appellation fetched $10,000. The producers are Andrew Will, DeLille, Hedges, Quilceda Creek and Woodward Canyon.
A second auction was added before the main event this year; on Thursday, a barbecue picnic at Chateau Ste. Michelle drew 500 guests, including a large percentage of vintners. Driven indoors by pelting rains, the picnic raised $60,000 for the new viticulture and enology program at Washington State University.
Top Lots at the Auction of Washington Wines
1. "Raise Your Paddle" donation drive: $635,250
2. Dinner with Bill Cosby at Striped Bass, Philadelphia: $50,000
3. Children's Hospital art table and 9-liter bottle of Snoqualmie Syrah 1999: $25,000
4. Leonetti and Woodward Canyon dinner at Metropolitan Grill: $18,000
5. 18-liter bottle of DeLille Chaleur Estate 1998: $14,000
6. (tie) Blending experience and private dinner at L'Ecole No. 41 and Pepper Bridge: $13,000
6. (tie) Helicopter tour of Washington vineyards: $13,000
8. 18-liter bottle of Woodward Canyon Cabernet Sauvignon Artist Series: $12,000
9. Trip to Hong Kong, including airfare, luxury hotel rooms and dinner for two with library wines from Kestrel Vintners: $11,500
10. Four lots at $10,000: Five imperials from the 2001 vintage from the Red Mountain appellation; Hogue Cellars' blending experience for six people; 37 etched magnums from 37 Washington vintners; and Pike Place Market Foundation's lot, including a sculpture from "Pigs on Parade"