The Sonoma County Wine Auction is one of the premier philanthropic events in the nation – and this year was no exception. The weekend-long fundraiser (September 19-21) brought together 80+ Sonoma County winemakers, chefs, musicians, fabulous auction lots and excited bidders to support nonprofits throughout Sonoma.
Part fundraiser, part culinary experience, this year’s auction raised a record-breaking $6.1 million. Overall, more than $36 million has been raised to date for Sonoma County non-profit organizations.
“Through the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation, we enable organizations that feed the homeless, improve mental health for those in need, provide nutrition to pantries for vulnerable families, inspire young minds with music and theater and have the ability to respond to unexpected challenges this county may face in the future,” said honorary co-chair Gina Gallo of E&J Gallo Winery.
This annual tradition showcases some of the best Sonoma County has to offer – both in wine and generosity. Here’s how it looked from the inside.
Best. Party. Ever.
Weekend auction activities kicked off Thursday, September 19th with the Best. Party. Ever., hosted with the Cline Family at Jacuzzi Family Vineyards. The winery produces cabernet sauvignon, pinot noir, chardonnay and a variety of Italian varietals.
The rustic Italian architecture provided a lovely backdrop for the delicious food and wine – provided by some of wine country’s most accomplished vintners and chefs.
“The combination of great local food, remarkable local wine, a casual atmosphere, a beautiful venue and music that you can’t help but dance to makes the Best. Party. Ever. extraordinarily fun,” said honorary co-chair Christopher Jackson of Jackson Family Wines.
Friday night featured a series of sumptuous dinners throughout wine country and, for the first time ever, one dinner in San Francisco. It was difficult to choose – they all looked so good – but I opted for the elegant San Francisco dinner at Saint Joseph’s Arts Society.
Formerly an abandoned church, this venue has been completely reimagined as a gorgeous arts and events space designed by mastermind Ken Fulk and his creative team.
“We were pleased to team up with George & Pam Hamel of Hamel Family Wines, for our pre-auction Vintner Dinner,” said Jackson. The event started with a champagne reception and passed hors d’oeuvres. Bubbly in tow, guests explored St. Joseph’s Art Society.
Later that evening, we enjoyed a bespoke four-course dinner. The wine was provided by Jackson Family Wines and Hamel Family Wines.
“It seemed to me that this year’s auction had a decidedly youthful energy to it, right from the start of the weekend, said George Hamel, Jr. – last year’s honorary chair and founder of Hamel Family Wines. “Chris and Gina innovated with several forward-looking initiatives, like holding a vintner dinner in San Francisco for the very first time, building a proverbial “bridge” from Silicon Valley to Sonoma County.
Reception and Live Auction at La Crema Estate
On Saturday, 400 auction guests were welcomed to the grounds of La Crema Estate at Saralee’s Vineyard with sunny skies and exceptional Sonoma County wine.
“Joining our fellow vintners to celebrate raising a record $6.1 million for charity was so much fun. Our new Rowen Wine Company Lounge was packed throughout as we featured rare wines from the highest elevations of the historic Cooley Ranch,” said Christopher O’Gorman, Rodney Strong Director of Communications.
Where there’s lots of great wine, you’ll find delicious food at the Sonoma County Wine Auction. Local chefs, including James Beard award-winning Chef Honoree John Ash, prepared an array of decadent bites while guests mingled with non-profit beneficiary organizations.
“The Sonoma County wine auction this year was by far the Best one yet,” said culinary chair, Chef Dustin Valette of Valette Healdsburg. “Sonoma County has always been, in my humble opinion, the most amazing region in the world for wine, food, to live, to raise a family and own a business in! Reflecting on what made Saturday so special was just this, our community coming together to support each other and give back! From the iconic Jackson/Banke and Gallo Families to restauranteurs like Doug Keene and Charlie Palmer, its truly the most amazing place to live.”
After the reception, guests were paraded to the auction tent by the Luther Burbank Center for the Arts Mariachi Ensemble.
Auctioneers John Curley, renowned auctioneer with more than $100 million dollars raised for charities around the country, and Humphrey Butler, 43-year veteran auctioneer recognized as a leading international charity auctioneer, encouraged and enthused guests from around the country to bid generously and competitively under the tent.
“Sonoma knows how to party with a purpose. The love for wine is only surpassed by their deep and unbroken love for the community,” said Curley.
The live auction featured 40 separate lots, including music experiences, international travel, outstanding food and precious wines. The lots were nothing short of amazing, but Lot No. 13 made auction history, fetching $520,000. This highest selling individual lot featured a 378-bottle collection of Sonoma County Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varietals.
“We put together the G.O.A.T (Greatest of All Time) lot with a couple of ideas in mind,” said Hamel. “To begin, Sonoma County is the oldest and most terroir—diverse winemaking region in the US, if not the world. However, we’re not simply diverse, but also produce wines that belong in the discussion with the finest wines in the world. “
Their goal was to showcase some of the best Sonoma County Bordeaux-varietal producers and offer a rare collection, believing there would be great demand for it by the knowledgeable collectors in the tent. “Being in the tent, you witnessed the same incredible moment that I did. Paddles were being raised throughout the tent with attendees bidding on the lot—it was one of the special moments from the auction,” said Hamel.
More Top Lots Included:
Lot No. 14, “An Intimate Nashville Evening with Brad Paisley! (And a Trip You’ll Never Forget!)” featuring Lasseter Family Winery earning $320,000.
Lot No. 21, “Lady Antebellum Private Wine Country Experience” featuring Stonestreet Winery and a private evening with the country music superstars at Wing & Barrel which peaked at $300,000.
Lot No. 27, “Wine & Dine Extravaganza with Gina Gallo & Jean-Charles Boisset” sold for $210,000. The buy-in lot featured a custom dinner crafted by three-star Michelin Chef Kyle Connaughton of SingleThread at Gallo and Boisset’s Napa Valley home.
Lot No. 18, “The Ultimate Texas Ranch Getaway” featuring Aperture Wines, Flexjet, JL Bar Ranch, Resort & Spa brought $170,000.
In addition to the many luxury lots being auctioned off, there was a Fund-A-Need segment, during which bidders raised their paddles to support a specific charity. This year’s recipient was the Boys & Girls Club in Roseland, one of Sonoma’s underserved areas.
“There is an energy at the Sonoma County Auction that is unique,” said Gallo. “I walk in and I get a little bit choked up because I feel it – there is such a desire to contribute and such a strong commitment to support this amazing community. I especially appreciate the Fund-A-Need paddle raise at the live auction. When you look across the audience and see all those paddles go up, it is powerfully emotional.”
The funds raised at wine auction will help build a large Boys & Girls Club complex in Roseland that will include an elementary school club as well as a teen center and a gymnasium. “We estimate the project will cost around $15 million and the 1.6 million raised through the Sonoma County Wine Auction Fund-A-Need is an amazing kick off to our campaign,” said Jennifer Weiss, Chief Executive Officer of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma – Marin.
“We currently serve one thousand kids in Roseland at five locations but have been disheartened by the fact that there are 1,000 kids waiting on the waiting list. It’s our vision to raise the entire community out of poverty by helping young people become caring productive and responsible citizens. This means every child. We provide meals, homework help and so many life-enhancing enrichment programs.”
During the auction, the crowd was moved to tears by a short speech and beautiful rendition of the song “Make You Feel My Love” by 12-year-old Juliette, a Boys & Girls club member. In an outpouring of heartfelt generosity, $1,613,000 was pledged in direct donations ranging in amounts from $250,000 to $500.
“With encouragement from the Boys & Girls Club she has gone on to build confidence and skills and absolutely loves to sing. She has now performed at several Boys & Girls Clubs events, said Weiss.” When Juliette first came to the club she was in foster care and had been in 9 homes. It took a while for her to learn to make friends and trust adults and she attributes her time at the club as the place she learned how many people care about her.
“We are humbled and grateful to everyone who raised their paddles today,” said Jackson. “It was incredibly emotional under the tent this year. My heart is full knowing that my passion for the Fund-A-Need paddle raise was met with unbelievable contributions. As a result, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Sonoma – Marin can make the dream of Roseland Club construction a reality providing a monumental impact on the community.”
“As parents we want what’s best for our children, a sentiment shared by all parents, said Gallo. “Every child deserves the opportunity to reach their full potential and I am inspired by the work of Boys & Girls Club. These clubs create a safe and secure environment with the best interest of the child in mind. Honoring the work of the Boys & Girls Club is simply an expression of gratitude from me and my family.”
After spending the long weekend at these events, it becomes apparent that the participants are motivated by their great love for the region – the people, the land that produces the vines, the ripened grapes and the world-class wine.
“You can grow cabernet sauvignon in the Alexander Valley and chardonnay in the Russian River Valley and pinot noir on the Sonoma Coast and zinfandel in the Dry Creek Valley and on and on,” said Gallo. “This region has it all, and the wines made with these grape varieties are among the best in the world.”