Sonoma Wine Country Weekend Part II 5 min read

Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction: Citizen Sonoma – Community Organizing, Sonoma-style


The much anticipated Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction finally arrived and I found myself on the lawn of the lovely Chateau St Jean Winery.   It was one of those perfect magical Sunday afternoons when even the weather knew to fully cooperate.


The guests were greeted with a cornucopia of amazing foods and rare wines in accordance with the Brazilian theme of the auction titled “Sonoma Samba.”


“Seafood Caipirinha” shooters and Oil Guacamole Tacones were a huge hit, as was a “Coxinha,” a deep-fried potato cake stuffed with chicken. A personal favorite was a spicy Dungeness Crab salad with hearts of palm and watercress fashioned by Chef Thomas Schmidt of Vintners Inn and John Ash Company.


Inside the tent, the guests were treated to an annatto seed-crusted Alaskan halibut and dry aged angus beef gaucho steak with smoked honey glaze & chimichurri sauce.  The meal culminated in an array of mouthwatering deserts, fine cigars, cognac and chocolate served on the lawn after the auction’s end.


The wine offerings, poured by vintners themselves, were pretty staggering. William Selyem, Migration by Duckhorn and Kosta Browne Magnums, among many others, were generously offered to the guests.  A multitude of fabulous wines were also available from the Copacabana Bar, and an endless river of Gloria Ferrer Rose flowed.



Dispatch, we have a DWF in progress.

Unlike the Napa Valley Wine Auction, which focuses primarily on local healthcare and housing, Sonoma Wine Country Weekend contributes to a diverse set of charitable causes every year. This year the focus was on children’s literacy programs. I was quite moved by the MC’s introduction. He asked all those in the audience who grew grapes in Sonoma County to stand. Then vintners then were asked to join the growers. “This is our roots. Five generations.” It was a special moment as the hushed crowd looked around the room at their neighbors and colleagues. While there, I met a couple of falconers, who were  holding their precious birds.  Interestingly, falcons are used by vintners to scare off grape-thieving birds, such as starlings. While sipping an occasional beer, they jokingly cited “DWF” – “drinking with a falcon” as being against falconer rules.




The most wine-centric lot offered was “Magnum Force,” a collection of 71 magnums from top Sonoma wineries. The lot was impactfully introduced by the high-profile female wine personalities who sported bright orange and yellow fringe dresses while performing a sexy and well choreographed samba routine. Rick and Lori Miron won the playfully presented lot for $32,000.


On a more touching note, a video of the Gallo family played mid-way through the affair.   It featured the family patriarchs telling about their humble beginnings, when the Gallo brothers could only afford one tractor between them – and had to take turns using it.
The “Kicking it Luxury style with Kosta Browne” lot, a well-buzzed about luxury trip to 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, sold for $44,000.  Bend it like Browne!


And yet another terrific lot that featured a barbeque party, to be held in the historic barn at McMurray Ranch (built in 1941) fetched a whopping $125,000.  It will be hosted next summer by the McMurray’s and Gallo’s. Offered at a $1,000 per person, 125 tickets were sold.  It will feature steaks prepared by none other than Bruce Aidells, the famed sausage king.  He promised a $1K worth of fun and “the thickest steaks you’ve ever seen” which he’ll prep and marinade, himself.


As I glanced at the last of the confetti scattered on the lawn of Chateau St Jean, the remnant of a great party for a formidable cause I wondered what was the true significance of the event. At the end of the day it wasn’t the impressive, record-breaking $1.4 million raised that mattered the most. It was the spirit shown by all.


Why did the prominent families of Sonoma along with countless others work so  tirelessly to present this event? Why did the guests come from far and away to enthusiastically support a community that is not their own?  Perhaps Jennifer Fogg of Oklahoma said it best. ” We fell in love Sonoma, its people and their incredible hospitality and wanted to show it.”  She purchased the Sonoma Auction package at a charity event four years ago in Oklahoma, and the rest is history. She has been coming to SWCW ever since.  The guests were proud to be Sonoma citizens for a day. They took ownership of their passion and backed it with aggressive bidding.


The lots were stunning and top Sonoma wines flowed freely. However, that was not what the event was really about.  It was nothing short of love for the region that pushed people to work so hard and to spend so generously. Ongoing recession be darned, these bidders were on a mission to honor a life-changing cause for children of Sonoma, many the children of immigrants.


While faux community organizers and politicians give flowery speeches, this community quietly accomplished what inept governments can never achieve – unity, neighborly collaboration, synergy, and results.. These people truly care about their community. The room was filled with guests whose personal wealth is heady, to say the least.  Yet, take it from an observer who spent almost 7 hours doing nothing but actively listening, they were there to make a difference in other people’s lives. They may have larger houses and fancier cars than you and I, but the size of their hearts were not measured in dollars. The tears in their eyes were genuine, as the group of deserving kids went on stage. They saw their own children in those kids and opened their wallets as only parents can. There was an uncommon genuineness that got to everyone who was in the room that afternoon.


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.

  • Looks incredible. A lovely reminder that doing what we love spreads energy that helps others. Beauty in the world!

    September 14, 2015 at 6:40 am

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