The Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Chateau St. Jean in Kenwood danced with color Sunday, thanks to a lavish Moroccan theme and extravagant spending to match. The live auction raised a record $4.6 million, exceeding last year’s haul of $4.5 million.
With its “From Sonoma to Marrakesh” theme, complete with belly dancers, a live camel and a Moroccan-style market, the auction was the highlight of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, a three-day celebration of wine, food and fun. The weekend overall raised $5.7 million to benefit local charities.
The air was electric inside the auction tent as a bidding war broke out over the highest-grossing lot, which included a trip for four to Los Angeles with VIP tickets to the Golden Globes afterparty, a private film screening and large-format bottles, all sponsored by Buena Vista Winery. Bedecked in a red suit and matching shoes, owner Jean-Charles Boisset took to the stage to fire up the crowd. In the end, he agreed to duplicate the lot, honoring the top bids of two couples—Lori and Steven Bush, owners of the Oso Sonoma restaurant, and Joe Anderson and Mary Dewane of Benovia Winery. Combined, their bids raised $220,000.
Anderson, who was last year’s honorary cochair with Boisset, said his bid was to help this year's chairman. “We had to make sure Dan [Kosta] beats us this year,” he said. “It’s all about the children.”
Wine experiences drew the largest bids, with vintners keeping the lots lively. Masks bearing Kosta's face were handed to the crowd (to the surprise of the honorary chairman) as he presented one of the top lots, sponsored by Kosta Browne. Bidding was so frenzied—couples paid $5,000 each to dine with Kosta and winery cofounder Michael Browne for the winery’s 20th anniversary—that he expanded the package from 25 to 39 couples, pulling in a total of $200,000.
Bidder Matt Clark of Sonoma paid $100,000 for a trip for six to Scotland to play at some of the top golf courses in the world with Kenneth Juhasz of Auteur Wines. “I’m looking forward to spending time with Kenneth,” Clark said. “It’s going to be a great trip.”
During the live auction, the 650 guests indulged in exotic fare like seared ahi tuna with vadouvan and lamb Merguez en crepinette; multiple vintages of Kosta Browne Pinot Noir in double magnums were among the bottles served.
Bidding was particularly strong for the annual Fund-a-Future lot, benefiting childhood literacy. Kosta took the stage again, accompanied by a group of grade-schoolers. “My kids are reading at reading level or above,” he told the crowd. “But that is the minority in this county.” He showed his support with a gift of $250,000 on behalf of Kosta Browne. Jackson Family Wines and Benovia swiftly matched his donation.
Other prominent wineries and vintners joined in. Carmen Castaldi of Rodney Strong pledged $100,000 and then offered to match contributions of $1,000, up to an additional $100,000. Emotions ran high when Gina Gallo stood to make a contribution and asked for a moment of silence for Margrit Mondavi, who passed away Friday. Gallo then matched the highest bid in her honor. When the final tally was in, the lot had raised $2.7 million.
It was the capstone to a weekend that kicked off Sept. 2 with dinner and dancing under the stars at Francis Ford Coppola winery in Geyserville. The following day, 2,500 guests converged at MacMurray Ranch in the Russian River Valley for Taste of Sonoma, an event that featured cooking demonstrations, seminars and wine tents dedicated to the region’s appellations. More than 200 wineries were on hand, with 60 local chefs and restaurants serving delectable bites matched with wines such as John Ash & Co’s lamb and feta meatloaf paired with Ferrari-Carano Zinfandel.
To date, the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend has raised more than $20 million for local non-profits and its literacy programs have helped 5,800 children. “We are making a substantial impact now that the charity auction is the third biggest in the U.S.,” said Craig Haserot, cofounder of Sojourn Cellars.