Sometimes less is more. At the Sonoma Showcase of Food & Wine, the crowd of bidders was smaller than in previous years, but the total was higher at the live auction, held Friday night at Rodney Strong Vineyards in Healdsburg, Calif. This year's live auction, which was sponsored by Wine Spectator, raised $444,150, about $84,000 more than was collected in 2004.
About 450 vintners, industry executives and consumers gathered to bid on 34 live lots featuring wine, entertainment and travel packages provided by the region's producers and a variety of corporate sponsors. The proceeds benefit local charities, including the Redwood Empire Food Bank, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and Southwest Community Health Center.
|The top-selling lot was a wine blended to honor Sonoma vintner Rodney Strong.|
"If it weren't for Rodney Strong, my life wouldn't have been my life," Tancer said. "Rodney was the visionary who made this county happen."
Arrowood, who worked with Strong from 1970 to 1974, reiterated that sentiment. "A little under 40 years ago, you gave a young punk, still wet behind the ears, a chance," he said. "You've been larger than life as long as I've known you."
Strong, 77, was in attendance, but could not speak due to a stroke suffered three years ago.
The animated bidding was driven by executives in the wine and restaurant businesses, who purchased each of the top five lots. Ted Simpkins, executive vice president of wholesaler Southern Wine & Spirits of California, purchased the Rodney Strong lot. Jon Moramarco, president and CEO of Constellation Brands' Icon Estates, spent $30,000 for three double magnums and a barbecue party hosted by Robledo Family Winery, based in Sonoma Valley.
|Robledo Family Winery's lot was one of the top sellers at $30,000.|
The Showcase festivities began on Thursday with the Appellation Experience, an introduction to Sonoma's 13 wine appellations held at the NovaVine Grapevine Nursery in Santa Rosa. The weekend events wrapped up Saturday evening at Sonoma-Cutrer, with a performance by the San Francisco Symphony.
The most popular event of the weekend is the Taste of Sonoma, held this year at MacMurray Ranch in Healdsburg. Nearly 1,300 people sampled offerings from 125 wineries and 50 food purveyors, grouped by region under four tents: Alexander Valley, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma Valley and Russian River Valley/Sonoma Coast.
|Dick Arrowood gave a touching tribute to his mentor, Rodney Strong.|
Martin Courtman, chef at Chateau Souverain's Alexander Valley Grille, took a similar tack, serving spicy gazpacho drizzled with basil oil. But the dish showed that not only Sonoma grapes have been affected by this year's cool, rainy spring. Courtman had to buy tomatoes from Belgium for his soup, because those at the Souverain estate were underripe.
Vibrant whites, such as the Martinelli Sauvignon Blanc Russian River Valley Tessa Lee 2004, were the best foil for the heat. But also showing well were many of the Pinot Noirs (slightly chilled, of course), such as Hartford Court's Sonoma Coast 2003 and its Seascape Vineyard 2003.
Eric Brever, 26, a tax-law attorney from Minneapolis, had never before been to Sonoma. Like most first-timers, he was dazzled by the wealth of options at the Showcase. "Being in Minneapolis, it seems like we pretty much just get beef," he said. "And I'm able to try all kinds of wines here, rather than just what gets shipped in to us."
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