Impressions from the Sonoma County Vintners Barrel Auction Tasting
Last week the Sonoma County Vintners debuted a new fund-raiser, the Sonoma County Barrel Auction, with one-of-a-kind wine lots made exclusively for the event in 5- to 20-case productions. When all the bidding was over, the Sonoma County Vintners raised $461,700 from the sale of 71 lots.
It's difficult to avoid comparisons to Premiere Napa Valley, the wildly successful, similar event hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners earlier this year. This year's 19th Premiere raised a record $6 million in the auction sale of 225 lots. Of course, Premiere Napa Valley itself draws comparison to the original charitable barrel auction, Hospice de Beaune, which has been taking place since 1851.
The Sonoma vintners highlighted what makes them special. While the Napa event is focused on one vintage of one style of wine (this year it was the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon-based wines), here Sonoma's diversity was on display. Vintners poured mostly 2014 Pinot Noirs, but there were also Zinfandels and Cabernets and some 2013s and a couple of 2012s. There were some stunning whites, including a pretty Sauvignon Musqué-Sauvignon Gris from Dry Creek Vineyards and a Ramey Chardonnay from Rochioli and Allen Vineyards.
It was exciting to get an unveiling of the 2014 Sonoma Pinot Noirs, which should be a terrific vintage and were showing beautifully. But it was also good to see the Sonoma vintners embrace the range of wines they make, and celebrate the 14 of Sonoma's 17 appellations that were represented.
I was surprised—and impressed—to learn the wines were curated by a panel of six Master Sommeliers and a Master of Wine earlier in the year. Not every lot submitted passed muster, so I'm sure the screening added to the event. I chatted with MW Bob Paulinski of BevMo, who described the blind tasting to me. "It was shocking how much in agreement we were," he said.
Two Pinot Noir lots tied for the highest bid, each selling for $24,000. One is a collaboration between Joseph Swan Vineyards, Kosta Browne, and Williams Selyem called Swan Selection Pinot Noir Russian River Valley and nicknamed "The Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost." The other, Williams Selyem Reverence, is a Pinot Noir blend of 10 different vineyards and seven different clones, made by winemaker Jeff Mangahas, a former cancer researcher.
There was another Pinot Noir lot that stood out to me from the West Sonoma County Vintners (who just submitted their application to become an AVA). Seven vintners—Ceritas, Failla, Freeman, Joseph Phelps, Littorai, Peay and Red Car—put together a blend to show what their idea for the appellation is, and I think it's a compelling argument, and a delicious wine.
What made the event special was the quality and mix of wines, and an exciting showing of a new vintage of Pinot Noir. I'm hopeful the Sonoma County Vintners can build on the success of this year's event. They are certainly headed in the right direction.