The Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction earned its name this year—winemakers were picking and crushing grapes while bidders were raising paddles on Sept. 6. The harvest results have yet to be tasted, but the auction raised a record $4.5 million, up from last year's $4 million haul.
The live auction capped off the annual three-day Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, which benefits local charities. About 650 bidders gathered on the lawn of Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood, where the theme was a recreation of the 1915 San Francisco World's Fair. Ragtime bands, Charlie Chaplin impersonators and barbershop quartets entertained guests before they took their seats under the white tent.
Top wine lots of the day included two VIP packages to Super Bowl 50 that raised $160,000 each, for a combined $320,000. Sponsored by Kosta Browne and Benovia wineries, the lots included game tickets, airfare, accommodations, wine dinners and large-format bottles of Pinot Noir. The largest-grossing auction lot was from Hamel Family Wines— bidders paid $5,000 per couple for a private dinner at the Hamel Family winery, featuring a menu by chef Patrick O'Connell and a performance from Grammy-winner Bruce Hornsby. The lot brought in a total of $420,000.
The Sonoma Wine Country Weekend kicked off on Sept. 4 with dinner and dancing by the pool at Francis Ford Coppola winery in Geyserville. Taste of Sonoma followed the next day with a crowd of 2,500 mingling on the grounds of MacMurray Ranch outside Healdsburg. More than 200 wineries poured new releases and more than 60 local chefs paired their culinary creations with specific wines. There were also wine tasting seminars and cooking demonstrations.
During the live auction, guests dined on crisp fried chicken by Cyrus chef Doug Keane and Pacific salmon by Andrew Cain, chef of Sante restaurant at the Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn. In between bidding, they watched sentimental tributes to two longtime Sonoma vintners who passed away this year: Joe Martin, founder of St. Francis Winery, and Henry Trione of Trione Vineyards.
Emotions ran high during the annual Fund-the-Future lot, benefiting childhood literacy programs, as a group of grade schoolers paraded onto stage. Mary Dewane, co-vintner at Benovia and one of the auction chairs, told the crowd in a video introduction, "Our children are our future, and we'll be a stronger, better and more prosperous county if we educate our children." Dozens of bidders individually pledged anything from $500 to $100,000 or more, raising a total of $1.9 million.
Matt Gallo of Gallo Family Vineyards and Rick Tigner, president of Jackson Family Wines, each contributed $150,000 to the lot. "We live here and we work here," said Tigner. "We feel like we're ambassadors—custodians—for Sonoma County."