The third-annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction, put on by the Sonoma County Vintners, was hosted on April 20th and 21st just last week. A whirlwind of events starting with the two preview-tastings on Thursday, Landmark Vineyards and Kosta Browne opened their doors to invite guests for a sneak peek at this year’s auction lots. And in what’s already been one of California’s rainiest recent springs, the grey clouds parted to a sky of blue on Thursday morning to kickstart the festivities. Friday yielded another gorgeous day on the grounds of the Vintner’s Inn for the final chance to taste the auction lots, followed by the live auction itself.
The outdoor setting of Landmark Vineyards was spectacular—a tranquil view of bountiful estate vineyards with the picturesque Mayacamas Mountains on the east, golden sun shining down on the young shoots whose sprightly tendrils have sprung and flowers have already begin to blossom. Soon, there will be grapes for a new vintage—but first, we look to the wines in barrel. Hosted in Landmark's courtyard, winemakers eagerly greeted members of the trade and media. The auction’s theme—Never Before, Never Again Wines—rang true as the winemakers proudly shared their auction lots and explained the singularity of their wines.
Of the wines tasted at the preview events, several wines stood out. Mauritson Wines’ 2015 Sonoma Own Everest (90% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Malbec) comes from the family’s estate Rockpile Ridge Vineyard—a stunning site that sits in the wind-swept Rockpile AVA that overlooks Lake Sonoma. This lot consists of just five cases and by the time of expected bottling in July 2017, will have been aged for about 16 months in a single barrel. It’s an homage to Winemaker Clay Mauritson’s love for single-barrel Bourbon and just like Bourbon, it’s a wine with elegance and sophistication. The wine is structured, with excellent acid and tannin balance, and gentle layers of cocoa and dark fruit. Eventually auctioning off for a total of $12.5K, it was the the fourth highest lot-by-case ($2,500/case).
Another lovely Cabernet Sauvignon that auctioned for a pretty penny at $20K (just five cases, making it the highest lot-by-case at $4,000/case), was the Pride Mountain Vineyards 2015 25th Anniversary Summit Cuvée. This hand-selected lot shows beautiful spice and tannin structure, with layers of dark fruit and chocolate; there’s even a touch of violets and savory tobacco leaf.
Kosta Browne’s unique industrial space turned tasting room and sophisticated winery in Sebastopol’s Barlow district provided yet another excellent setting in which to preview the auction lots. Though not the highest lot-by-case, Kosta Browne’s 2016 The Shire of Freestone auctioned for an impressive $60K—breaking their own record for highest bid at last year’s Sonoma County Barrel Auction. The lot is 20 cases (coming in second for lot-by-case at $3,000/case) and the wine comes from multiple vineyards in the town of Freestone, located in the Sonoma Coast AVA. Winemaker Nico Cueva’s continual curiosity to experiment with various fermentation and aging vessels (stainless steel tank, oak, concrete open-tops, concrete egg and amphorae) really shines in this lot. Juicy and with a great acidic backbone, this Pinot boasts both black and red fruit in a medium-bodied style, with excellent texture, structure and spice.
Another spectacular, sun-filled day set the scene for Friday’s grand tasting and live auction at the Vintner’s Inn. Trade and media hustled about the well-spaced rooms that housed winemakers and their precious auction lot samples. Jovial words were exchanged, smiles were all around and interested buyers scribbled notes in their auction lot books—the scene had an electricity in the air. When the auction began, that same electricity lept from the stage as live auctioneer John Curley energized bidders from start to finish. Raising a grand total of $794,500 at this year’s auction, all of the proceeds from the Sonoma County Barrel Auction will support the Sonoma County Vintners and its AVA partners in the coming year.
Interested in how Sonoma producers stacked up in our recent reviews? Be sure to check out Lisa Perrotti-Brown's just-published Sonoma report in our latest Wine Advocate issue... USA, California: Sonoma County - Part Two, Left of Center Winemaking. Enjoy!
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