This week more than 150 national and international wine buyers from wine shops, restaurants and other retail establishments will descend upon Sonoma County, California for the chance to bid on unique wine lots that were created especially for the 2022 Sonoma County Barrel Auction (SoCoBA). These ‘Never Before, Never Again’ wine lots were crafted by Sonoma County winemakers as a gift to help support the wine trade and community.
“This year we are doing a unique Russian River chardonnay fermented in a concrete egg,” explains David Ramey, Founder and Winemaker of Ramey Wine Cellars in Healdsburg, California. “The grapes are from a special field selection on our ranch, and the wine is made with natural yeast, aged on the lees for 18 months in the concrete egg, and bottled unfiltered.” Only 10 cases were made of this distinctive wine, and each bottle will have the special Sonoma County Barrel Auction label and be hand-signed by Ramey.
Ramey is just one of many talented winemakers who are crafting the 71 special Sonoma County wine lots that are available for the 2022 auction. The lots feature the 2019, 2020, and 2021 vintages, and include 15 different Sonoma County AVAs (appellations) and 12 distinctive grape varietals. These range from the Sonoma County classics of chardonnay and pinot noir, to cabernet sauvignon, zinfandel, and more unusual varietals such as sangiovese, petite verdot and cabernet franc. In the last couple of years, the auction has achieved around $700,000 in proceeds each year to help fund initiatives to support the wine trade and community.
Trade Wine Buyers Coming to Sonoma County Auction Since 2015
“When we started the auction in 2015, we wanted to create a touchpoint between the wine trade and Sonoma County vintners every year – to build relationships,” states Dana Macaulay, Managing Director of Auctions & Experiential Marketing for Sonoma County Vintners. “Now in our 8th year, we see many repeat buyers returning year after year. The last two years the auction was held online due to Covid, but this year everyone is so happy to be back together in person.”
Wine buyers include owners of specialty wineshops, sommeliers from top restaurants, buyers from gourmet grocery stores, and online retailers, such as Wine.com. They are seeking special wines that they can offer exclusively to their customers.
According to David Marberger, Owner of Bay Ridge Wine & Spirits, in Annapolis, Maryland, “First, and probably most importantly, SoCoBA gives us an opportunity to network and communicate directly with the wineries and their teams. We often see a state or regional salesperson from Sonoma County properties but that is not the same as talking with those who are there at the winery each day. Secondly, we have become so much more aware of how many small wineries there are that just don’t have the marketing reach via a major distributor. This allows us to diversify our inventory for our customers who want a wider selection from small producers.”
Chef and restaurant owner, Robert Merrifield, of the Polo Grill in Tulsa, Oklahoma describes the importance of providing special wines for his customers. “We have been a supporter of SoCoBA since the inaugural event in 2015, bidding on these unique, one-of-a-kind wines to separate our restaurant’s wine program from others. Our extensive list of SoCoBA selections are only available to guests while dining here at Polo Grill.” Indeed, the Polo Grill achieved the 2022 James Beard Award Semifinalist for its outstanding wine program.
For many who attend the auction, a key benefit is building and strengthening relationships. The two day event includes opportunities for wine-tastings and talking in-depth with winemakers. The actual auction features a dynamic auctioneer wearing cowboys boots, while buyers and winemakers are mixed together at round tables to enjoy local food, wine, and networking.
“I believe to effectively market the type of wines we represent,” states Robert R. Damron, Buyer for Main Street Spirits LLC, in Nicholasville, Kentucky, “we have to first enjoy working with the producers and telling their story to our clients.”
Some of the wineries offering lots at this year’s auction include such well-known names as Rombauer, Silver Oak, Kosta-Browne, Williams Selyem, Kendall-Jackson, and Benziger, but also small family wineries such as Balletto, Macrostie, Meadowcroft, Davero, and Iron Horse. “Participating wineries range from hidden gems to beloved favorites to prestigious showstoppers,” states Macaulay.
Auction Honors Sonoma County Winemakers with Awards
Each year the auction also recognizes Sonoma County winemakers with a series of awards. This year’s Icon award goes to Audrey Sterling, Co-Founder of Iron Horse Vineyards and Randy Ullom, Winemaster and SVP for Kendall-Jackson. The Innovators award goes to Ames Morison, Co-Founder of Medlock Ames Winery and the Benziger Family of Benziger Family Winery.
“This year we decided to create a Lifetime Achievement Award,” explains Macaulay. “Our members nominate different candidates, and then the SC
“That just means I’m getting old,” jokes Ramey. “When I started making chardonnay in 1978, everyone was doing overnight skin contact, no night harvest, big tannins, and basically applying red winemaking to white wine. But I decided to follow the Burgundy standard, and was the one who brought whole cluster press, no skin contact, and a focus on lighter more elegant chardonnays to California.”
Now after making wine for more than 40 years, Ramey is considered to be one of the top winemakers in the U.S., according to wine critic Antonio Galloni. His chardonnays have repeatedly scored 100 points, and he serves as an inspiration to many aspiring winemakers. Along with his wife, Carla, he runs Ramey Wine Cellars, and in his free time serves on the board of Communicating for Agriculture to assist foreign students to work harvest in the U.S. He is a very worthy recipient of the first SoCoBA Lifetime Achievement Award.