Rodney Strong proprietor gets lifetime achievement award at lively Sonoma County Barrel Auction

Friday was a chilly but cheerful day at the ninth annual Sonoma County Barrel Auction as more than 300 attendees — some coming from as far away as Norway and South Korea to bid on lots of wine — gathered at MacMurray Estate Vineyards in Healdsburg for the lively afternoon event.

Hosted by Sonoma County Vintners, the auction raised funds for the wine trade organization, which provides marketing and policy advocacy for the Sonoma County wine region and its 250 winery members, as for local nonprofits.

To kick off the event, Michael Haney, executive director of Sonoma County Vintners, presented the Icons of the Year award to Lee Sr. and Carolyn Martinelli (not present), proprietors of Martinelli Winery, for the Martinelli family’s 100-year legacy of farming and winemaking in Sonoma County.

Theresa Heredia, director of winemaking at Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery in Healdsburg, was awarded Innovator of the Year for her work to promote diversity, equity and inclusion at Gary Farrell and across the wine industry.

“This award means the world to me, but I feel like there are so many people who deserve it more, people who have promoted diversity for decades,” said Heredia after accepting the award. “After the murder of George Floyd, I’ve been very outspoken about how things need to change. But I accept this award as a call to action to do even more.”

This year’s Lifetime Achievement award went to Tom Klein, proprietor of Rodney Strong Vineyards, who has played a significant role in Sonoma County’s wine industry since 1989. Under Klein’s direction, Rodney Strong Vineyards became an early leader in philanthropy and sustainability and the first carbon-neutral winery in Sonoma County.

During the live auction portion of the event, auctioneer John Curley effortlessly kept the audience engaged for no less than three hours with his charismatic, sometimes wacky, bid-calling style. (Post-event research revealed he’s a multiple Emmy Award-winning TV and radio host.)

Over the course of the afternoon, Curley auctioned 66 lots of “one-of-a-kind wines” created exclusively for the event by Sonoma County winemakers. The hottest lot of the day was No. 56: The Legend: Joe Rochioli, Jr., a 2022 Pinot Noir, Rochioli Riverblock, Russian River Valley from Williams Selyem, Rochioli and Gary Farrell wineries, which sold for $51,000.

Among the other high-earning lots were Silver Oak’s 2021 Pick of the Bunch, a cabernet sauvignon from Alexander Valley that went for $45,000, and Kosta Browne’s The Duel, a 2022 Pinot Noir, Marshall Ranch, Russian River Valley, which fetched $22,000.

The lots ranged from five to 20 cases of wine apiece, with each case holding 12 bottles.

Open to both national and international wine trade professionals and media, the Sonoma County Barrel Auction provides trade buyers exclusive access to limited-edition wines for resale to customers and ultra-premium wine collectors.

The total amount raised for this year’s auction will be announced next week. Last year's event, the first in-person auction post-pandemic, raised $445,000.

You can reach Staff Writer Sarah Doyle at 707-521-5478 or On Twitter @whiskymuse.

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