Paul Franson

Paul Franson

The Sonoma County Vintners’ second annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction trade auction in Santa Rosa raised $693,800 last Friday.

The total was up more than 50 percent over last year, officials said.

The 75 wine lots sold came from 16 of the county’s 17 appellations.

Unlike at Premiere Napa Valley, all of the wines were vetted by a group of masters of wine and master sommeliers, and some were rejected.

Though pinot noir was the most popular grape in Sonoma, the auction included many chardonnays wines, a surprising number of cabernets from the county’s warmer regions, field and traditional blends, and wines from alicante bouschet/petite sirah to malbec-based blends and old-vine zinfandels.

Gallo’s J Vineyards offered the auction’s only sparkler.

The top lot was Kosta Browne’s “The KB Elixir,” a pinot noir of Russian River Valley and Sonoma Coast grapes, at $46,000 or $383 per bottle.

Other top-earning lots at the auction included Williams Selyem Winery’s 35th Anniversary Blend lot of 10 cases of pinot noir at $40,000 and 20 cases of Silver Oak Cellars Single Barrel Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, which sold for $33,500.

One lot celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Judgment of Paris in 1976. It featured a chardonnay wine from Bacigalupi Vineyards, which furnished half of the chardonnay used in Chateau Montelena’s wine that beat the best white Burgundies at that tasting.

It received the highest bid for a white wine at the auction, $15,000 for 20 cases, or $62.50. It was a joint effort of Bacigalupi Vineyards, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Flanagan Wines, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery and MacRostie Winery & Vineyards

Many of the wines sold for less than $6,000 per case, or $100 per bottle, some for as little as $50.

A number of smaller retailers noted that made them more accessible than some of the expensive wines sold at Premiere Napa Valley.

In February, Premiere Napa Valley raised $5 million, with its top lots $130,000 — $2,100 per bottle — though most weren’t that expensive, of course.

Many of the Sonoma lots came with a big perk for the buyer: a visit by the vintner or winemaker to the store or restaurant that bought the wine. All wines will sport as special Sonoma County Barrel Auction label.

The auction followed a lunch where vintners passed around pouring their auction lots for prospects.

Also in contrast to Premiere, the day before the auction, two consecutive events, not dozens of competitive tastings, gave bidders a chance to taste all the wines rather than drive all over the far-flung county with its many narrow winding roads.

Following that, the festival honored four Sonoma County “icons” — Helen Bacigalupi, Tom Rochioli, Tom Klein of Rodney Strong Vineyards and David Rafanelli at Martinelli Winery.

Bo Barrett busts myths

Also last week in Santa Rosa, the North Bay Business Journal held its annual, and well-attended, wine conference.

The keynote speaker was Bo Barrett of Chateau Montelena Winery of Calistoga.

In outlining the winery’s early history, he noted that his family bought Montelena in 1972, a year when 25 wineries were created in Napa.

Barrett explained why:

Because the U.S. economy was weak, the Nixon administration instituted an investment tax credit in 1971 when the top corporate tax rate was 72 percent, inspiring many doctors, lawyers and other wealthy people to invest in wineries to save taxes.

Twenty more followed the next year.

Barrett, who delights in busting myths, also noted that his father founded the winery to produce quality cabernet.

It made the chardonnay (along with riesling) that won the tasting as a “cash flow” wine in the winery’s second year using purchased fruit (75 percent from Sonoma County) while they were waiting for the cab they’d planted to bear, be vinified and aged. “They were the best grapes we could buy, and were closer to us than Napa.”

He also credited Mike Grgich’s skill as a winemaker for making that wine under less-than-optimum conditions.

Barrett set straight a myth in the movie “Bottle Shock,” too. He explained that it was the 1972 wine that went through a reductive “pink” stage after bottling, not the winning 1973. There was no last-minute drama.

After the Judgment of Paris anointed Napa wines, even more wineries were founded here.

And describing how wineries like his continued to produce better and better wines, he noted that the histamine headaches that once were reported after drinking red wines have mostly disappeared: The cause was a pediococcus strain of malolactic bacteria that created excessive histamines. Other bacteria eliminated the problem.

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