Josh Bergström, auction committee chair, opened the inaugural Willamette: The Pinot Noir Barrel Auction stating, “The brave and visionary wine pioneers did not move to this marginal climate to make marginal wines.” And then it began…
Eight can I get nine? Nine can I get ten? Sold to the gentleman in the aisle! The crowd whoops and hollers as Bergström’s five case lot from the family’s flagship vineyard, The Bergström Vineyard, brings in $10,000.
Four hundred were gathered at The Allison Inn and Spa – buyers from the across the country, winemakers, and volunteers. The excitement was palpable. Auctioneer extraordinaire, Fritz Hatton, used his unique skills and comic timing to keep the crowd on their toes and their paddles raised through the auction of 2014 Pinot Noir donated by 66 Willamette Valley wineries. Fast and loud it was like a sporting event, celebration, and a show rolled into one. At one point Hatton nudged a bidder along say, “C’mon, I know you brought your Suburban.”
The event was the work of a special committee of the Willamette Valley Winery Association and was a year and a half in the making. Premier Napa Valley serves as a template for wine auctions, but this auction had to have an Oregon flair. The goal was to raise money AND awareness. Participating wineries were asked to not only donate their best 2014 Pinot Noir, but to contribute wine that tells the Oregon wine story. The result were some very special offerings.
Sokol Blosser Winery auctioned a ten case lot of Founder’s Block Pinot Noir from Old Vineyard Block, originally planted by the winery’s founders in 1971. Made by Alex Sokol Blosser, this wine was purchased by Beckendorf Liquors for $10,500. Adelsheim Vineyard, auctioned the winery’s first single block wine in its 40 year history, from the original vineyard block, Quarter Mile Lane Block One, planted in 1972. Winemakers were Dave Paige and Gina Hennen. When that lot was auctioned for $15,000, David Adelsheim, went directly to the winning bidder to thank her. Buying wine in Oregon is still a personal experience even when there are 400 people buzzing around the room.
Other notable highlights included the five case lot of never before bottled estate grown Pinot Noir planted at Bethel Heights in 1994. Winemaker Ben Casteel’s custom bottling for Bethel Heights Vineyard sold for $10,500 to an active group of bidders from Frederick Wildman & Sons, of New York City. A single barrel wine made exclusively from estate fruit by Maggie Harrison for Antica Terra Winery sold for $13,000 to the Sea Island Resort in Georgia. Ten cases of Pinot Noir crafted from the Yamhill-Carlton and Dundee Hills AVAs by renowned Oregon winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash for Penner Ash Wine Cellars sold for $16,000 to Houston restaurant, Plonk Bistro.
Buyers and guests were treated to pre-auction events Friday, April 1st. Shuttles ran from The Allison to tasting events featuring the six Willamette Valley appellations. Winemakers congregated at three host wineries to pour from bottles that would not be included in the auction. Spring Catch at Adelsheim Vineyard featured a wild Northwest salmon bake. Some east coast friends had never seen salmon prepared this way. Catering was by Hunt and Gather. Take me out to the AVA was held outdoors at Penner Ash Wine Cellars. While over at Alexana Estate Vineyard and Winery some lucky visitors were treated to helicopter rides.
The day of the auction, buyers had the opportunity to sample all of the wines, chat with the winemakers, and get ready for the battle of the bids. The fundraising goal was $370,000. The total raised was $476,000. Hatton deemed it a “smashing success.” Bergström could not have been more pleased. He shared, “It was thrilling to see the plans and work come together and to see people raising their paddles for Oregon Pinot Noir.”
Exceeding the goal would have been a great end to the story. But Oregon wine events are always a fun opportunity for the industry, temporarily free from the vineyards and cellar, to reconnect in person. So the party continued as those who might act as competitors in other wine regions hugged, congratulated, and clinked glasses. Everyone gathered in a party tent at The Allison as vintage magnums meant for just this type of occasion were opened and shared. And the guests, some who had never visited Oregon before, got a taste of what the wine industry here is really all about.
Proceeds from the auction will be used by the Willamette Valley Winery Association for special marketing and branding opportunities. A second auction is already planned for April 1, 2017. As Hatton expressed, “This is just the beginning.”
For more information about Willamette: The Pinot Noir Barrel Auction and for a complete list of participating wineries please visit www.willamettewines.auction.
This article first appeared in the Oregon Wine Press. It was so much fun I wanted to share it on Tasting Pour to make sure you didn’t miss the story. Exciting times in the Willamette Valley and I was proud to be part of this inaugural event. Photos courtesy of Aubrie Legault Photography.