Sonoma County Wine Auction Returns to Healdsburg’s Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards

There were many spiraling bids at the main attraction of the Sonoma County Wine Auction on Saturday, with signs the charity fundraiser entering its fourth decade could surpass last year’s take over $1.7 million.

“Farming and farming have always had their challenges, but wildfires, drought and supply chain issues have complicated everything,” said Michael Haney, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners. “Yet the inspiration we see every year is how our wine community responds to all of these challenges.”

This year’s gathering at Chalk Hill Estate Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg followed the return of the event last year after an in-person hiatus due to the pandemic.

In 2020, the auction had a virtual event, raising $1.17 million. But the auction continues to be considered Sonoma County’s largest wine charity event. It raised a record $6.1 million in 2019 at its in-person auction, when 400 bidders competed for 40 lots.

Organized by the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation, the fundraiser benefits local nonprofits. They range from community health and children’s education to pandemic, fire and flood emergency relief efforts. In addition to the live auction, online bidding on a selection of other lots continues through September 20 at sonomacountywineauction.com.

This year, approximately 225 people competed for 30 lots, and the offers ranged from rare wine collections to trips to the United States and abroad.

The event took place outdoors in the indoor arena, the former Chalk Hill Equestrian Centre, a winery celebrating its 50th anniversary. With temperatures in the mid-70s, the event was spared the rains that were expected to arrive on Sunday, making for a pleasant afternoon of sipping and bidding.

Paddle holders strategized while tasting Sonoma County wines and munching on dishes like Wagyu meatballs and adobe-glazed chicken and purple potato skewers.

The largest collective lot was Fund-A-Need, which targets children’s education and literacy programs. The bundle was offered to a group of individual paddle holders in increments, starting at $100,000 all the way up to $500. Last year Fund-A-Need raised $550,000 and in 2019 it raised $1,613,000.

Billy Harris of San Francisco said he shares this lot and this cause, donating to it for years.

“Obviously it would be fun to buy a lot of things that we could participate in, but the most important thing is to donate money directly to charities and organizations in Sonoma County,” said Harris, owner of St. Clair, an event and catering service in San Francisco.

Another popular offer – a trip to Paris and Burgundy – was so competitive that the lot was duplicated, for $110,000.

Mary Dewane and Joe Anderson, winemakers at Santa Rosa’s Benovia winery, landed the lot for $55,000. Next, Boisset offered to duplicate the $55,000 prize for Lehn and Richard Goetz, winemakers at Rancho Coyote Vineyards in Windsor.

The offer includes a 4-day stay for two couples in Paris and Beaune, visits and tastings at the properties of the Boisset Collection, and a collection of 24 bottles of Burgundy from the personal cellar of winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset.

“We love Jean-Charles (Boisset) and we want to support causes today and help those who need it most,” Dewane said.

Lehn Goetz, initially outbidding, said she was glad Boisset was willing to replicate the lot.

“I thought about what an iconic opportunity to travel with Jean-Charles (Boisset),” she said. “We love its wines and we love Burgundy.

A popular offering in the United States, which sold for $8,500, was Lot #4, Wine & Dine with Sonoma County’s Leading Men. It includes a gathering with such notables as Rick Tigner, CEO of Jackson Family Wines; Bob Cabral, Winemaker/Founder, Bob Cabral Wines; and Carmen Castaldi, President, Rodney Strong Vineyards. It also includes lunch for 12 at Kendall-Jackson Wine Estate and Gardens in Santa Rosa, as well as a collection of 156 bottles of wine.

Greg Biagi of the Biagi Brothers of Napa in Napa grabbed the lot.

“Rick Tigner and Barbara Banke (president and owner of Jackson Family Wines) are good friends of mine,” Biagi said. He added that he has many friends who would like to feel like insiders when meeting with these leading men.

Auction festivities kicked off Thursday with winemaker dinners across Sonoma County. On Friday night, a Roaring Twenties costume party was held at the Buena Vista Winery in Sonoma.

Nicholas Casagrande, CEO and founder of NC Financial Group in San Francisco, was at the Roaring Twenties party in vintage clothes, complete with suspenders and a black top hat.

“I had a visceral reaction to the camaraderie, the coming together of the wine community for a common goal,” Casagrande said of the charitable cause.

The auction features winemakers and chefs from across the county, honoring the best and brightest each year. This year, the honored winemaker was Boisset, CEO of the family business Boisset Collection. Boisset’s portfolio in Sonoma County includes Buena Vista Winery, DeLoach Vineyards and Healdsburg’s Oakville Grocery.

“As a Burgundian from a small village, I discovered this amazing place when I was 11 and I knew I wanted to be in this place of possibilities,” Boisset said. “We are honored to support the Sonoma County Wine Auction for another year of vital fundraising.”

The chef honored was Dustin Valette, owner of his namesake restaurant Valette and co-owner of Matheson in Healdsburg.

“I was born and raised in Sonoma County, and I’m honored to be part of this community-driven event,” Valette said. “We are very fortunate to have all of these amazing people to showcase the best of their brands – food, wine and hospitality.”

The auction dates back to 1993 as the Sonoma Valley Harvest Wine Auction. The philanthropic tradition took off from there, raising $39 million since its inception.

“Funds raised from the auction will be distributed to the many nonprofit organizations in Sonoma County who work tirelessly to care for those most in need,” said Bill Foley of Foley Family Wines, president of the this year’s auction.

Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at [email protected] or 707-521-5310.

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