Sonoma County Barrel Auction Soars High 4 min read

I recently attended the first annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction. When I first heard of SoCoBa, I was beyond excited. Hospices of Sonoma, a similar event, happened over a decade ago. It was time for Sonoma to shine bright on the world wine stage once again.


Similar in concept to Premiere Napa Valley, the buyers, comprised exclusively of trade, were offered an opportunity to bid on five, ten or twenty case lots. These rarified lots, which represented fourteen of Sonoma County’s seventeen appellations, were chosen by a group of well-regarded Master Sommeliers. Selections included single vineyard, clonal, special barrel aging protocol, exclusive blends, or one of a kind collaborative lots.


My top twelve favorites were:



The $461,700 received for 71 lots went to Sonoma County Vintners Association.  The funds will be used for marketing initiatives to promote Sonoma County wines.


Two highest selling lots, at $24,000 each were a Pinot produced in collaboration by Joseph Swan Vineyards, Kosta Browne Winery and Williams Selyem named “The Father, The Son and The Holy Ghost” and Williams Selyem “Reverence,” comprised of seven heritage clones.


Other top lots included collaborations between West Sonoma Coast vintners such as Ceritas, Failla, Freeman, Joseph Phelps, Littorai, Peay and Red Car. Offerings from Patz & Hall, Paul Hobbs Winery and Pride Mountain Vineyards also received generous bids.


The day before the auction, a special event honoring winemaking legends, titled “Sonoma County Icons Library Tasting” took place at the gorgeous Williams Selyem winery. Sonoma County’s viticultural and winemaking history certainly boasts a wealth of extraordinary pioneers. Most of them were present at that event. One could strike a chat with Merry Edwards, who was recently honored at the CIA in St Helena, Zinfandel icon, Joel Peterson, and famed growers John Balletto, Lee Martinelli, and the Duttons.


Joe Rochioli

Joe Rochioli

Joe Rochioli’s presence nearly took my breath away. Humble as ever and unchanged after years of praise he still drives his old truck and gets up early to tend to the vines. Winemakers Paul Hobbs, David Ramey, Tom Dehlinger, and Burt Williams were in attendance and poured some incredible library offerings. A crowd favorite was 1998 Hanzell Chardonnay, which was delightfully fresh and energetic.  The 1997 Ramey Chardonnay also received many accolades. The 1996 Williams Selyem Pinot Noir Rochioli Riverblock was drop dead gorgeous. Both 1995 Pride Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc were extraordinary, each validating my love for the brand. The 1983 David Stare Dry Creek Valley Reserve Zinfandel was nothing short of a revelation.


The weekend’s events also included a La Paulée celebration as a fitting conclusion to the auction. A French tradition, La Paulée, is held to celebrate the end of the harvest. Vintners gather for a communal meal while partaking in special bottlings from their cellars. This year’s La Paulée was held at the gorgeous Kosta-Browne facility at Barlow. When I first looked around, my heart skipped a beat. The caliber of attendees, and the wines they brought, foretold an uncommon evening. Between top flight Burgundies and library selections from producers in attendance, such as Don Patz, Joe Anderson of Benovia, Chris Costello of Kosta Browne, Tom Dehlinger and many more this was a magnificent gathering.


Events, such as this, offer a valuable glimpse into the future of Sonoma viticulture and winemaking. It was instantly apparent that this event’s prospects are bright and exciting.


Luminaries such as Joe Rochioli and Tom Dehlinger have paved the way for a new generation of growers and winemakers. Would we have Michael Browne without Joe Rochioli? Likely, yes. Would his path have been different? Assuredly. Pinot Noir pioneers are perhaps the most precious of all. They did it for the love of the variety when no one cheered them on.


Based on what I tasted of the 2013 and 2014 vintages, wine drinkers have much to anticipate. They are, undoubtedly, the most exciting Sonoma wines that I’ve have had to date. In addition, library wines poured at La Paulée validated what I have suspected all along; California Pinot Noirs are enormously age-worthy.


All in all, wonderful news for those few who will obtain the rare, unique lots from the retailers who purchased at auction.  Those that support the brands via wine clubs and mailing list are in for a treat with these upcoming vintages. I encourage Pinot lovers to stock up on 2013 and upcoming 2014 releases from their favorite producers. Celebrate Sonoma while drinking better than ever!


Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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