There were leggy women in go-go boots, hairy men in tie-dye and ample evidence that Sonoma vintners will do just about anything to raise money for charity. It was all part of the show Sunday at the Sonoma Valley Harvest Auction, the finale of the three-day Sonoma Wine Country Weekend. The live auction at Cline Cellars in Carneros benefited a dozen local charities and brought in $702,500 for 57 live lots, which included wine, food and travel packages. (Wine Spectator was one of several sponsors of the auction.)
The theme this year, "You're not hallucinating, you're in Sonoma Valley," celebrated the 1960s, and judging from the enthusiasm and animated bidding, many of the 540 industry professionals and consumers in attendance are old enough to not remember that eventful decade. Hyperkinetic auctioneer Fritz Hatton, channeling Austin Powers, egged on the crowd, but the vintners did the heavy lifting with their singing, dancing and comedy skits. Fred and Nancy Cline, owners of Cline Cellars, introduced their lot, featuring a residential solar energy system, by singing "I Need Your Bid" to the tune of the 1965 Sonny and Cher classic, "I Got You Babe." It sold for $28,000. John Farley, the weatherman at Bay-Area television station NBC 11, presented a Lunar New Year feast accompanied by the wines of Benziger by impersonating singer Tom Jones, and was pelted with panties.
The high bid of the afternoon was $44,000 for a 2008 Toyota Prius, purchased by Rick Miron and Greg Windisch of Trilogy Glass & Packaging, a Santa Rosa company with 300 Sonoma vintner clients. Trilogy Glass bought four additional lots and were the top bidders, spending a total of $85,500. Darryl Ponicsan, a writer who lives in Sonoma with his wife, Cecilia, bought two lots, including the Shag-a-Delic 1960s Magnum Force, a collection of 63 magnums made by Sonoma producers that brought in $18,000. That lot was introduced by a performance of the "Magnum Force," female vintners in go-go boots. Silent and online auctions added $73,000 to the final tally, and ticket sales brought the total gross for the weekend to more than $1.5 million.
The weekend's festivities started on Thursday with more than two dozen winemaker lunches and dinners hosted at properties throughout Sonoma County. On Saturday, more than 2,000 people attended the weekend's most popular event, the Taste of Sonoma, held under clear skies at MacMurray Ranch in Russian River. Local food and wine made by 120 area producers and 60 restaurateurs and caterers provided a crash-course introduction to the regional culinary diversity. Purveyors were divided by region into four tents representing Sonoma's primary appellations: Dry Creek, Alexander Valley, Russian River and Sonoma Valley. Most of the vintners poured at least three wines, mainly Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Zinfandel and Cabernet Sauvignon.
Many of the food selections were made with the 90-degree temperatures in mind. Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club made a cucumber ginger gazpacho with a dollop of spicy tuna. Maya Restaurant, located in the Sonoma Square, prepared a rock shrimp seviche with coconut milk, mango, cherry tomatoes and avocado.
Melanie Wynkoop, of Washington, D.C., was a first-time Taste of Sonoma attendee. She found a good variety of Sonoma wines at her local stores, but nothing to compare with the selection on Saturday. "It's having all these wineries in the same place, in such a beautiful setting with great food," said Wynkoop, who especially enjoyed the change to try unfamiliar wines, such as Twomey Pinot Noir Russian River Valley 2006.
This year marked major changes for the weekend, which was previously called the Sonoma Showcase of Food and Wine and was held in mid-July. The showcase used to have its own auction, with no affiliation to the Sonoma Valley Harvest Auction. "We have so many events in Sonoma County that take place in the summer. So we decided to move the two biggest together to create one event that would draw more people, raise more money and build more awareness about Sonoma Valley and Sonoma wines," said Honore Comfort, executive director of the Sonoma County Vintners.
Based on the funds generated in a difficult economy, the approach worked. Last year, the Sonoma Valley Harvest Auction raised $525,000 in live bids, and the Sonoma Showcase auction raised $31,750.
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