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2016 Sonoma County Barrel Auction

“The French have a word for it: terroir. The Americans have two words for it: Sonoma County.”

I was one of the fortunate members of the media to be invited to the 2016 Sonoma County Barrel Auction. The wine trade event was sponsored by the Sonoma County Vintners, more than 260 member wineries and affiliated business representing the 17 appellations of Sonoma County (

Sonoma County is home to over 60,000 acres of vineyards and more than 400 wineries, stretching from the Pacific Coast in the West to the Mayacamas Mountains in the East. There are a multitude of soil types and microclimates, making Sonoma County flush with terroir riches. The top AVAs for Pinot Noir are Bennet Valley (700 vineyard acres and 17 wineries), Carneros (6,481 vineyard acres and 22 wineries), Fort Ross-Seaview (715 vineyard acres and 5 wineries), Green Valley (2,860 vineyard acres and 10 wineries), Russian River Valley (13,896 vineyard acres and 94 wineries), Sonoma Coast (5,055 vineyard acres and 7 wineries), and Sonoma Mountain (667 vineyard acres and 3 wineries).

This year's Sonoma County Barrel Auction featured 75 lots of which eighteen were 10-case lots, seven were 20-case lots and 50 were five-case lots, representing sixteen of Sonoma County’s seventeen appellations. Each lot was a one-of-a-kind, never before and never again limited production offering blind tasted and personally selected by a curated panel of three Master Sommeliers (Evan Goldstein, Keith Goldston and John Szabo), three Masters of Wine (Sandy Block, Bob Paulinski and Liz Thach), and one holding both Master Sommelier and Master of Wine titles (Doug Frost). Of the Pinot Noir lots, one was from vintage 2014 and thirty were from vintage 2015.

The wines were previewed for the wine trade and media on Thursday, April 28, 2016, at Comstock Winery in Healdsburg (Sonoma Valley, Alexander Valley and Dry Creek Valley Preview) and Pellegrini Wine Co. in Santa Rosa (Russian River Valley, Petaluma Gap and West Sonoma Coast Preview). Additional preview tasting was held at the Vintners Inn the morning of the Auction on Friday, April 29, 2016. More than 250 top wine professionals and media attended the event where the mood was upbeat and friendly.

The auction raised a total of $693,800, increasing this year’s fundraising total by more than fifty percent over last year. All the successful bidders were members of the licensed wine trade such as retailers, restaurateurs, importers and distributors and their enthusiasm reflects the high regard for Sonoma County wines. Profits from the 2016 Sonoma County Barrel Auction support ongoing marketing initiatives of Sonoma County Vintners and their AVA partners.

I thought I was in heaven at this event because I was able to taste all 31 Pinot Noir and all 7 Chardonnay barrel sample auction lots. I have listed the Pinot Noir lots here for interest along with any pertinent comments and the auction price the item fetched. Unfortunately, because these wines were sold to the wine trade, most pinotaficionados will never have the chance to drink them. If you do get the opportunity, do not pass it up. All photos are by Will Bucquoy for the Sonoma County Vintners.

A luncheon preceded the Barrel Auction on Friday where a 2014 Rodney Strong Sonoma County Chardonnay and 2014 The Calling Russian River Valley Pinot Noir were on the menu. Toasting was done with Gloria Ferrer Carneros Blanc de Noirs. However, many special Sonoma County wines were being passed around by winemakers and winery owners throughout the luncheon and wine literally flowed like water. The idea, of course, was to get people freed up to bid on the wine lots. The auctioneer was John Curley, an award-winning broadcaster with a television and radio career spanning 30 years (photo above). He possessed dynamite energy and lent boundless entertainment to the proceedings.

Lot #2: “Feeling Lucky?” 5 cases of 2015 UV-Lucky Well Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir crafted by winemaker Matt Courtney at Arista Winery. The vineyard is located next to Silver Eagle Vineyard at the extreme western region of the Russian River Valley. This wine is from one block planted to Calera selection and the winemaker’s favorite barrel from this particular vineyard block. All free-run juice aged in 4-year air-dried French oak barrels. $6,000.

Lot #4: “The Robert’s Road Pinot Blend - Poetry You can Drink” 5 cases composed of 2015 Bruliam Wines Gap’s Crown Vineyard 50% and 2015 MacPhail Family Wines Sangiacomo Roberts Road Vineyard 50% Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Crafted by winemakers James MacPhail and Kerith Overstreet who blended their finest juice from these two iconic Petaluma Gap vineyards. $5,000. (apologies to Robert Frost)

Two vines diverged on Roberts Road
And happy that I could source from both
As if one vintner, together we stood
And mixed all clones from whence I could
From where they bloomed in the windy gap

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Never before and never again
Two vines diverged on a road and I -
I mixed two vineyards traveled by.
And that has made all the difference

Lot #5: “Balletto’s Best” 5 cases of 2015 Balletto Cider Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This hillside vineyard is located in the hills southwest of Sebastopol where there are excellent southwest slope exposure and Goldridge soils. Of the 650 acres of vineyards farmed by John Balletto, this is among the most cherished sites and among the top ten percent of the grapes farmed. The winemaker was Anthony Beckman. $6,000.

Lot #6: “Exceptional Vineyard, Exceptional Wine” 5 cases of 2015 Benovia Martaella Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Winemaker Mike Sullivan chose two heritage clones (UCD 90 and UCD 96) from the Martaella Estate Vineyard grown at very high density for this bottling. $9,000.

Lot #7: “Judgment of Paris 40th Anniversary Barrel” 20 cases of 2015 Bacigalupi Vineyards Russian River Valley Chardonnay. Composed of original Wente clone from Bacigalupi Vineyards, Dutcher Crossing Winery, Flanagan Wines, Gary Farrell Vineyards & Winery, and MacRostie Winery & Vineyards. Winemakers were Ashley Herzberg, Kerry Damskey, Cabell Coursey, Theresa Heredia and Heidi Bridenhagen. $15,000.

Lot #10: “CIRQ Heritage Clones” 5 cases of 2015 CIRQ Estate Treehouse Vineyard 50% and Bootlegger’s Hill Vineyard 50% Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Calera, Mt. Eden and Swan selections combined in a blend by winemaker Michael Browne. A big, bold, fruity Pinot Noir that was a bit tight but a powerhouse that was definitely not for the timid. $13,500.

Lot #12: “Pinot Perfection” 5 cases of 2015 Dutton-Goldfield Cherry Ridge Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This Pinot Noir is from one of the most treasured blocks of this Dutton Ranch Vineyard located in the heart of the Green Valley of Russian River Valley AVA. The vineyard overlooks the foggy Petaluma Wind Gap. This wine, crafted by Dan Goldfield, had never been bottled separately. $8,000.

Lot #13: “The Melting Pot” 5 cases of 2015 Davis Bynum Winery Jane’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. 45% Dijon 667, 40% Pommard 4, and 15% Swiss Mariafeld 23. This winery produced the first single vineyard (Rochioli) Pinot Noir from the Russian River Valley in the 1973 vintage. Forty years later, the winery is under the ownership of Tom Klein and the heritage of Davis Bynum lives on. The winemaker was Greg Morthole. $5,000.

Lot #14: “Soul Patch 20th Anniversary Selection” 5 cases of 2015 Davis Family Vineyards Soul Patch Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Soul Patch is an organically farmed estate vineyard planted in 1995 by winemaker Guy Davis and his family. This hand-selected blend contains six clones. $5,500

Lot #15: “Hand-harvested, Biodynamic Grown” 5 cases of 2015 DeLoach Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Winemaker Brian Maloney. $8,000.

Lot #25: “Laguna Ridge Neighborhood” 10 cases of 2015 Joseph Swan Vineyards and Davis Family Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Lots were selected from several of the Laguna Ridge’s finest vineyards including the estate vineyards of Joseph Swan and Davis Family Vineyards. Winemakers Rod Berglund and Guy Davis. $9,500.

Lot #26: “The Pearl” 5 cases of 2015 Gloria Ferrer Estate Carneros Pinot Noir. This wine was sourced from a tiny subset of the Q block located on the Circle Bar Ranch. This hillside site is extremely windy with rocky, thin, well-drained soil combined with volcanic rock and gravelly clay loam from the sea. It took years to determine the proper clone and rootstock combination for this extreme location. The wine was crafted by Steven Urberg from less than two acres of vines planted to UCD 32 clone. Inaugural bottling from this site. $4,500.

Lot # 29: “The KB Elixir” 10 cases of 2015 Kosta Browne Winery Russian River Valley (50%) and Sonoma Coast (50%) Multiple Vineyards Pinot Noir. Neither press or free run, this wine is obtained from fermentation tanks while they rest overnight, waiting for the press. Rather than have them contribute their intensity to another wine, they kept them separate to demonstrate their power and beauty. $46,000.

Lot #30: “Top Secret” 5 cases of 2014 Guarachi Family Wines Sun Chase Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. This wine was inspired by the owner and chief winemaker Alex Guarachi’s daughter’s horse “Top Secret.” This vineyard is one of Sonoma Mountain’s highest at 1,400 feet elevation. Winemakers who collaborated on this wine include Alex Guarachi, Paul Hobbs and Julian Gonzales. $7,500.

Lot #31: “Late Disgorged Brut Rosé” 5 cases of 2007 J Vineyards & Winery Late Disgorged Russian River Valley Brut Rosé. This was the only sparkling wine is this year’s auction and is the first and only late-disgorged vintage Brut Rosé from J. It is composed of Chardonnay (55%), Pinot Noir (40%) and Pinot Meunier (5%). The wine spent nearly eight years aging on yeast lees in the bottle. A custom dosage was developed for this lot. Winemaker was Nicole Hitchcock. I thought this was spectacular with an inviting bead, tight acidity and a pleasing leesy, nutty, cherry and brioche flavor profile. $6,500.

Lot #34: “Thale’s Vineyard Pommard Block” 5 cases of 2015 MacRostie Winery & Vineyards Thale’s Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. A single block of MacRostie’s own Thale’s Vineyard in the heart of the Russian River Valley and home to the new MacRostie Estate House. Crafted by Heidi Bridenhagen from 2-year-old Pommard clone vines. $5,000

Lot #37: “A Vision of Green Valley” 20 cases of Martin Ray Vineyards & Winery Tina Marie Vineyard Green Valley of Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Clones 667, 115, 777 and “828,” planted in Goldridge sandy loam and cared for by Ron Block. Winemakers include Bill Batchelor, Lindsay Haughton and Dan Goldfield. $14,000.

Lot #41: “Best of the Migration Estate” 20 cases of 2015 Migration Running Creek Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Sourced from a Duckhorn estate vineyard that has been meticulously developed. A selection of the best blocks and barrels from this site. Winemaker was Bo Felton. $17,000.

Lot #42: “Forty-Year Commemorate Cuvée” 5 cases of 2015 Olivet Lane Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. The Olivet Lane Vineyard contains 20 acres of Martini clone Pinot Noir originally planted by Vincent and Aida Pellegrini in 1975. Winemaker Lynn Krausman selected the barrels for this Pinot Noir. $6,000.

Lot #45: “100% Pinot Perfection to the Tenth Degree” 10 cases of 2015 Patz & Hall Multiple Vineyards Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. A blend of the most exceptional lots of clone 115 grapes grown at some of Sonoma County’s most spectacular vineyards. Patz & Hall to the tenth degree: 100% Patz & Hall, 100% Pinot Noir, 100% clone 115, 100% new French oak barrels, 100% 2015, 100% Russian River Valley, 100% Sonoma County, 100% unfiltered, and 100% perfection. Winemaker was James Hall. $12,000.

Lot #46: “Trenton Estate Swan Selection The Mother Block” 5 cases of 2015 Joseph Swan Vineyards Trenton Estate Vineyard Old Barn Hill Block Joe’s Vines Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Joseph Swan was the first vintner to plant Pinot Noir south of the river in what is now the Russian River Valley AVA. The Swan clone is still recognized as one of the most highly desirable selections of Pinot Noir. This lot was crafted by Rod Berglund from the first block of vines planted and only available as this one-time auction lot. $9,000.

Lot # 47: “Bondi Ranch - One Barrel, One Block, One Clone, One Time” 5 cases of 2015 Martinelli Winery Bondi Home Ranch Green Valley Pinot Noir. This wine is from the Martinelli family’s favorite barrel, from their favorite block, and from their favorite clone that is the soul of Bondi Home Ranch Pinot Noir every year and is typically blended with other blocks. The winemaker was Bryan Kvamme. $10,000.

Lot #51: “Katherine Lindsay Estate Block A9” 5 cases of 2015 Paul Hobbs Winery Katherine Lindsay Estate Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This wine was sourced from Katherine Lindsay Estate Block A9, historically the source of the winery’s top Pinot Noir, Cuvée Augustina. Primarily Calera clone planted in 2000 in Goldridge sandy loam. Winemaker was Paul Hobbs. $17,000.

Lot #55: “Schug Estate Block 8” 10 cases of 2015 Schug Carneros Estate Schug Estate Vineyard Carneros Pinot Noir. This wine was sourced from Block 8, a UCD 12 Pommard clone (“old Pommard”) planted in 1989. These are the estate’s oldest vines. Winemakers are Walter Schug and Michael Cox. This was a very impressive wine with admirable suavity and elegance with a generous cherry and raspberry fruited finish. $6,500.

Lot # 61: “The Vineyard. The Barrel. The Winemaker.” 5 cases of 2015 Three Sticks Wines Durell Vineyard Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. 2015 was the first year that winemaker Bob Cabral made a wine from this vineyard. Bob selected one outstanding block of Pinot Noir for this lot. A custom oak barrel was crafted and hand-toasted specifically for this wine by winemakers Bob Cabral and Ryan Prichard. This wine has a unique toasty oak profile due to the barrel but also featured a delicious black cherry core with impeccably balanced tannins and acidity. A true treasure. $7,000.

Lot #62: “Founders’ Block” 5 cases of 2015 The Calling Sunny View Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. A boutique Pinot Noir crafted by winemaker Dan Goldfield. $4,500.

Lot #63: “Last Stop Pinot Noir” 5 cases of 2015 Twomey Cellars Last Stop Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This vineyard was recently acquired by Twomey. It is nestled in the rolling hills of Forestville. This wine is Twomey’s first single-barrel production of an auction lot and their inaugural single vineyard Pinot Noir crafted from Last Stop Vineyard fruit by winemaker Erin Miller. 30% whole cluster created considerable textural interest in the well-endowed, cherry-driven wine which needs some time to shed its oak and tannin cloak but the potential is impressive. $6,000.

Lot #65: “River Road Ranch Pinot Noir, Block Selection, UCD37” 20 cases of 2015 Trione Vineyards & Winery River Road Ranch Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. Sourced from a single block of the estate 115-acre River Road Ranch located in the heart of the Russian River Valley AVA. The block and UCD37 clone were chosen by winemaker Scot Covington. $10,000.

Lot #66: “Rochioli Estate Single Vineyard Selection Big Hill” 10 cases of 2015 Rochioli Vineyards & Winery Big Hill Russian River Valley Pinot Noir. This vineyard was planted in 2009 using cuttings from Rochioli West Block. This selection had never previously been bottled separately. The winemaker was Tom Rochioli. $21,000.

Lot #72: “Bob’s Ranch Sonoma Coast” 5 cases of 2015 Walt Wines Bob’s Ranch Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Sourced from Walt Wines single vineyard estate in the Sonoma Coast AVA. This lot was crafted by winemaker Megan Gunderson Paredes from a Hyde selection planted in a single hillside block. $7,500.

Lot # 73: “West Sonoma Coast Vintners Founders Lot” 20 cases of 2015 West Sonoma County Vintners Founders Lot Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Multiple winemakers from wineries included Peay Vineyards, Red Car Wine Company, Failla Wines, Freeman Vineyard & Winery, Littorai Wines, and Joseph Phelps Vineyards. Very expressive for a young wine with considerable textural interest. $18,000.

Lot #74: “The Deuce” 5 cases of 2015 Westwood Estate Winery Annadel Gap Vineyard Sonoma Valley Pinot Noir. A collaboration between winemaker Ben Caine and consulting winemaker David Ramey drawn from two blocks in the Annadel Gap Estate Vineyard. Dijon clones 115 and 943. I absolutely loved this wine that had a perfect balance between luscious blackberry and black cherry fruits and toasty oak. $4,500.

Lot #75: “35th Anniversary Blend” 20 cases of 2015 Williams Selyem Winery 35th Anniversary Blend Sonoma County Pinot Noir. This wine is a tribute blend from Russian River Valley (80%) and Sonoma Coast (20%) vineyards that Burt Williams originally sourced. This was a fitting homage to William’s vision and these vineyards still form the backbone of the site-driven wines for which Williams Selyem Winery is known today. An artful blend by winemaker Jeff Mangahas. This was one of the top Pinots I tasted with amazing aromatic presence, loads of spiced fruit, and a finish that went on and on. $40,000.

Besides the Barrel Auction lots, some vintners were pouring newer releases of Pinot Noir at the Preview events. Vintners talked about the 2015 vintage that featured warm weather early, then cool weather during flowering resulting in small berries, many shot berries and very low crop levels. Not much wine but the quality and textural interest is high and the wines are very expressive for youthful wines in barrel. The general result was wines of concentration and one Sonoma Coast winemaker described them as “ethereal.”

These wines I tasted really made an impression:

Flanagan Wines A new label for me and the 2014 Flanagan Chardonnay that was being poured was really, really good. Young winemaker Cabel Coursey, who makes wines at Flanagan and Lombardi, is one to watch.

Balletto Vineyards I spent some time talking with the winemaker, Anthony Beckman. He has it dialed in after ten years at Balletto and the 2013 Cider Ridge Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were flat out great.

Kanzler Vineyards The 2013 Kanzler Estate Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir was composed of clones 667, 115 and Pommard 4 and was heavenly aromatic with a smooth and engaging mouthfeel. Young Alex Kanzler is making some special wines here.

Alquimista Cellars A new project from Greg La Follette and Patrick Dillon producing wines from unique, even remote vineyards. The 2014 Alquimista Mes Files Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir was being poured and this is definitely a new label to check out.

Scherrer Winery No surprise here as Fred Scherrer continues to quietly produce many stellar Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays from Sonoma County. Fred’s Hilford Vineyard Chardonnay has beat out many French white burgundies in blind tastings. Fred doesn’t hurry his wines to market (he typically has two or even three vintages in storage at once), and he was pouring the 2012 Hallberg Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (he described it as an “Audrey Hepburn” wine) and the 2012 King Family Vineyard Russian River Valley Pinot Noir (he described it as “Jane Russell” in type). Both wines were superb.

Dehlinger Winery The 2013 Goldridge Pinot Noir was a dreamy wine bursting with cherry and spice flavors. My notes say, “Wow.”

West Sonoma County Wines that were notable: 2013 Alma Fria Holtermann Vineyard, 2013 COBB Jack Hill Vineyard, and 2013 Fort Ross Estate.

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