The concept of holding a wine auction to raise money for charity is ancient – it dates back to 1859 at the Hospices de Beaune in Burgundy, France. Built as a hospital in 1443, the famous medieval building with its multicolored tiled roof began the tradition by accepting donations of wine from local domains, who sold them to raise hospital funds. Eventually it became an annual 3-day auction, which is still held every November.
This wine charity model has been an inspiration for many other famous wine regions around the world such as B. Sonoma County, which started its first charity wine auction in 1988. Since the auction began, the auction has raised just over $40 million for local charities. This year’s three-day event (September 15-17, 2022) filled with winemaker dinners at various wineries, a gala celebration at Buena Vista Winery and an action-packed auction at Chalk Hill Estate Winery raised $1.8 million donations, breaking last year’s record of $1.7 million.
Michael Haney, director of the Sonoma County Vintners, who organize the annual auction, reported, “Proceeds from the generosity of donors, the wine community, sponsors and partners of the Sonoma County Wine Auction are important to the Sonoma County Vintners Foundation’s annual community grants of our local non-profit organizations and our emergency relief fund.”
The money raised was shared with more than 400 nonprofit organizations across Sonoma County, including child education, health, environmental initiatives, and emergency response efforts related to wildfires, floods, and the pandemic.
“What I like about donating auction items to the Sonoma County Wine Auction,” said Darren Humphreys, owner of Travel Sommelier, a luxury travel company, “is that the money raised goes to people in local charities. We are at a time in our business where we are in give-back mode, so we always use due diligence before supporting specific causes. I feel comfortable donating here.” Humphrey’s company donated a luxury 8-day, 7-night African safari for 2 people with iconic wine and food experiences that raised over $19,000 in a bid frenzy.
Top Earnings at Sonoma County Wine Auction 2022
The auction includes both online and live bidding events. The 3-hour live auction featured 30 unique lots that were auctioned off during a gourmet luncheon that included premium Sonoma County wines along with caviar, Wagyu meatballs, charcuterie and plenty of fresh vegetables from local farms.
Among the top-selling lots was a 5-night trip to Paris and Burgundy with winemaker Jean-Charles Boisset, which was so popular it sold twice – both times for $55,000, for a total of $110,000. Another popular lot was Fund-A-Need, which starts at $100,000 and goes down to $500. That year, three bidders bid $100,000 each, and many others joined him at other prices.
Another top-grossing lot was a $35,000 3-night stay with airfare for 8 guests on a private estate in Kauai, which tripled when the donor decided to expand it to two more bidders. A 6-night dining and spa extravaganza at Montage Resort in Los Cabos and Healdsburg generated $26,000 in bids, while a 4-night VIP trip to the Bourbon Trail in Kentucky generated the same amount. Other popular lots included Luncheons with Sonoma County Leading Male Vintners ($8,500) and Sonoma County Leading Female Vintners ($17,000).
Because Sonoma County is known for both excellent wine and great food, the auction also recognizes a special winemaker and chef each year. This year’s honors went to Vintner Honoree Jean-Charles Boisset, owner of 20 wine brands in California, including Sonoma County’s DeLoach and Buena Vista wineries. Honorary Chef Dustin Valette was selected for his innovative cuisine at the Valette and Matheson restaurants in Healdsburg.
The meaning of giving back
The purpose of the auction to raise funds for the many local charities was a key focus throughout the three day event. Some of the charities attended the winery dinners to thank people for taking part in the auction and many in attendance were moved by some of the stories.
“Hearing the impact of our bids can be very moving,” said Rob Irwin, a Tulsa, Oklahoma, participant who has been coming to the Sonoma County Wine Auction with his family for 16 years. “It can be a real tear-jerker to see children who need the money, especially some of the migrant workers. The other reason we come back every year is because everyone in Sonoma County is so genuinely friendly. We have met many winemakers over the years. There is both great wine and great people here.”
Lehn Goetz, owner of Rancho Coyote Café in San Diego and one of the winners of the Paris and Burgundy trip, said: “We are honored to be able to make a donation to these local charities. What they do is so important.”
Clay Mauritson, owner of Mauritson Winery and CEO of Sonoma County Vintners, summed it up: “What you’re doing here is going to change people’s lives.”