Pinot Noir -- not croquet -- was the sport of the day as vintner Brice Jones and friends revived the World Croquet Championship Charity Wine Auction in Sonoma County over the weekend, giving the event a new name and theme but retaining its worthwhile cause.
The event's new title, Hospices of Sonoma, chosen in honor of Burgundy's famed Hospices de Beaune auction, took in about $160,000 on Saturday at GoldRidgePinot winery, home to Jones' new Pinot Noir project in Sebastopol, Calif., where he plans to release his first vintage in 2005 or 2006. In total, the event raised $200,000 for the World Croquet Championship Foundation charities.
Twenty-four producers from the Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast regions participated, including Rochioli, Patz & Hall, Dehlinger and Flowers. Each contributed a half-barrel of 2003 Pinot Noir, which Ursula Hermacinski auctioned off to a crowd of about 250 bidders.
In its 17-year run, the World Croquet Championship (which Jones also founded) became one of the top charity wine auctions in the United States, frequently raising more than $1 million a year. Jones and his former winery, Sonoma-Cutrer Vineyards, parted ways in 2001, and the Championship ended in 2002.
In search of an event to replace that, Jones came up with the idea for Hospices of Sonoma after a trip to Hospices de Beaune. The original plan was to kick it off in 2004, but the enthusiastic Jones organized the event in a matter of weeks, confident it would grow over time.
The live auction, one of many gatherings during the three-day fete, was staged at the GoldRidgePinot's metal tractor-barn, the interior of which was adorned with white drapes and red velvet. As Jones recalled, "Our first croquet championship was 65 guys sitting around with a box lunch."
The auction's top lots included a $12,000 bid for a half-barrel of Dutton-Goldfield, and a $9,500 bid for a half-barrel of Gary Farrell Star Ridge Vineyard.
"We believe in the cause," winemaker Farrell said. "I think a lot of people have followed Brice to this event."
Winemaker Steve Test of Merryvale, one of only two non-Sonoma wineries participating, said he believes the event was not just a tribute to croquet tournaments of the past but to Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast Pinot in general.
"Fifteen years ago," Test said, "you couldn't have found 24 producers who had young Pinots that you would want to put in your mouth. Pinot Noirs in the area have made great strides."
The World Croquet Championship Foundation contributes its money to groups such as the Polly Klaas Foundation, and is also building a hospice near a Sonoma County hospital for indigent families with sick children.
Top Five Lots:
$12,000 — half-barrel Dutton-Goldfield Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2003
$11,000 — 24 magnums, one each from participating winery lots
$10,300 — half-barrel David Bruce Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2003
$9,500 — half-barrel Gary Farrell Pinot Noir Star Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley 2003
$9,000 — half-barrel La Crema Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2003
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