The theme, “Sonoma to Marrakesh,” featuring a live camel weighing more than a ton and a host of belly dancers, set the stage for Sunday’s Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction at Kenwood’s Chateau St. Jean that raised a record $4.6 million.
The top group lot of the day among the 650 paddle-holders was “Fund the Future” for children’s literacy at $2.7 million, up from last year’s $1.9 million.
Dan Kosta, the auction’s honorary chairman, was the first to donate $250,000 on behalf of the entire team at Sebastopol’s Kosta Browne Winery, as well as friends and supporters of the winery.
“My children are reading at grade level or above, but that’s the minority in this county,” Kosta said. “A total of 53 percent of third graders are reading below grade level.”
Others contributing $250,000 included Mary Dewane and Joe Anderson of Santa Rosa’s Benovia Winery, the Gallo Family in honor of the late Margrit Mondavi and the Jackson Banke Family of Jackson Family Wines.
Paddle-holders contributed at a range of price points, from $250,000 down to $500, and the bidding began with a sentimental touch. As two dozen kids took the stage wearing bright yellow shirts and holding black-and-white signs with “I read every day” and “I like to read to my dog” members of the Transcendence Theater sang “Seasons of Love” from the musical “Rent.”
When Gina Gallo later took the microphone to make her contribution, she surprised the crowd when she made a tearful request.
“Can we have a moment of silence for Margrit Mondavi?” Gallo asked. “It’s really hard. I miss her and I miss her generation. Everyone say a prayer or whatever you’d like for Margrit Mondavi.”
Mondavi, 91, the second wife of the late wine pioneer Robert Mondavi, died Friday.
After a moment of silence, the goodwill bidding continued, and there was even some cross-pollination between wine auctions.
Debbie Toler, co chair of the Southwest Florida Wine & Food Fest, contributed to a lot at $65,000, and one lot for $85,000.
“I would call it a partnership,” Toler said. “Joe (Anderson) and Mary (Dewane) have supported our organization. This is a great way to give back to Sonoma and we’re happy to do it. At the end of the day, it’s all about the children.”
The $65,000 lot featured 150 large format bottles from Sonoma County vintners, ranging in size between 1.5 to 3 liters. The $85,000 lot featured sailing on a yacht between Nantucket and Newport for three couples, as well as a 12-bottle collection of Benovia wine.
The top single lot of the day was actually sold twice for a total of $220,000. It featured two nights in Hollywood with VIP Golden Globe tickets and a private film screening. It also included a five-bottle collection of Buena Vista wine.
Lori and Steve Bush, co-owners of Oso restaurant in Sonoma, purchased one of the lots for $110,000.
“We also have a home in Manhattan Beach so we spend time in Los Angeles,” Lori Bush said. “But we consider Sonoma our home and we really wanted to support the community.”
The lots this year were trumped up with travel, according to Maureen Cottingham, co-executive director of Sonoma Wine Country Weekend.
“This year about 65 percent of the lots in the live auction lineup included travel and extraordinary experiences because we’ve found that these once-in-a-lifetime opportunities appeal to a wide range of bidders,” Cottingham said.
A steady stream of exotic dishes kept bidders well-nourished, and they included Grilled Eggplant Tapenade, Lamb Merguez en Crepinette and Heirloom Tomato Braised Chicken.
Bidders basked in weather in the mid-80s. The only thing that seemed amiss to some was the more serious tenor of the auction.
This was the first year in past 13 that the women vintners of the Magnum Force lot didn’t introduce their offering with a whimsical dance routine. There were, in fact, no skits this year.
“By necessity it has shifted,” said Joel Peterson, founding winemaker of Sonoma’s Ravenswood Winery. “It was totally irreverent in the past but it was a much smaller auction with fewer lots and a lot more play time.”
Peterson said the consensus was to “sacrifice some of the wackiness” to create more generosity for a good cause.
The total raised over the three-day Sonoma Wine Country Weekend was $5.7 million. While record-breaking, it was eclipsed by Auction Napa Valley with its weekend take of $14.3 million raised in June. Meanwhile Naples Winter Wine Festival raised $11.1 million in January at its live auction.
Jean Sessions, co-executive director of the Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, said the auction organizers remain uplifted by this year’s take.
“We are proud of our vintners and growers and thrilled with the generosity of our bidders,” Sessions said. “The result is that this event continues to grow year after year.”
She said changes are afoot for next year, with auction slated for Sept. 17, and a new location yet to be determined.
“In the end,” Sessions said, “the combined contributions have a huge and long-lasting positive impact on our community.”
Staff Writer Peg Melnik can be reached at email@example.com or 707-521-5310.