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Wine buyers return for Sonoma County Barrel Auction

Under cloudy skies but a sunny atmosphere, the Sonoma County Barrel Auction returned as an in-person event on Friday at the MacMurray Estate Vineyards after a three-year absence as result of the coronavirus pandemic.

The event, sponsored by the Sonoma County Vintners trade group, attracted almost 400 people to the winery estate west of Healdsburg that brought together local vintners and trade buyers, such as wine shops and retail outlets that will later resell the special wines to customers and collectors.

The proceeds will go to support marketing efforts for the vintners group, which represents more than 200 area wineries and wine-affiliated businesses in the county in promotion as well as policy efforts. The trade group held a virtual auction through the pandemic.

“Wine in itself is about people … it’s so much more enjoyable when you are sharing it around others and being around people,” said Michael Haney, executive director of the nonprofit group. “It’s no comparison to that interaction and that energy and that activity.”

The day started with a reception and then lunch. The trade group also honored some local icons and innovators.

The honorees included Audrey Sterling, who co-founded Iron Horse Vineyards in Sebastopol with her late husband, Barry, in 1976; Randy Ullom, the winemaster at Kendall-Jackson Wines, who has been a pioneer in popularizing California chardonnay; Ames Morison, the co-founder of Medlock Ames winery, who served 19 years at the helm of the Alexander Valley winery known for its Bordeaux blends; and the Benziger family, who founded the Benziger Family Winery in Glen Ellen.

Healdsburg vintner David Ramey was honored with the group’s first Lifetime Achievement Award for his effort of bringing back artisan winemaking to the region through such techniques as malolactic fermentation with chardonnay, which converts the malic acid into lactic acid in the juice to stabilize and adds a softer acidity. Reps. Mike Thompson and Jared Huffman presented Ramey with a congressional proclamation celebrating his career.

The auction featured special one-time lots to entice buyers, some of whom represented international markets from Nordic countries, as well as Asia, Haney said. “They're looking forward to taking this unique product in getting it out there to their customers as well,” he said of buyers.

In past years, cases from pinot noir pioneers such as Kosta Browne in Sebastopol and Williams Selyem winery in Healdsburg have attracted high bids, as well as cabernet sauvignon from Silver Oak Cellars in the Alexander Valley.

This year’s portfolio also had its share of creativity coming from local winemakers. Winemaker Bob Cabral said he appreciated the collaborative approach that the event brought out as he worked with Alex Kanzler of Kanzler Vineyards on a lot of five cases of pinot noir that came from wine grapes from the Kanzler Vineyards in the Russian River Valley. That lot sold for $7,800, equaling $130 per bottle.

“You just step back and put your ego aside,” said Cabral, who burnished his reputation at Williams Selyem and Three Sticks Wines. “Other barrel auctions in other places are all about their brands.”

Pinot noir continued to be popular Friday. The lot from winemaker Michael Browne and his CIRQ label was purchased for $12,000 for five cases of pinot noir with grapes sourced from various vineyards from the Russian River Valley. His former partner Dan Kosta and his DK Wine Group also attracted many bidders with their five cases of pinot noir from grapes sourced from the Campbell Ranch in the Sonoma Coast near Annapolis. That lot was bought for $9,000.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell.

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