Washington Barrel Auction Raises More than $250,000

Largest total yet for trade-only barrel auction featuring unique wines from the state's top wineries

by L.M. Archer
Left to right: Gilles Nicault, director of winemaking and viticulture, Long Shadows Vintners; Marie-Eve Gilla, head winemaker, Valdemar Estates; Mike Januik, private barrel auction host at Novelty Hill-Januik Winery and winemaker, Januik Winery. (Photo: L.M. Archer)

Woodinville, Wash.—The fourth annual Auction of Washington Wines private barrel auction raised $251,500 to benefit Seattle Children’s Hospital and the Washington State University Viticulture and Enology Program, nearly exceeding the total from the previous three auctions combined.

“We’re popping our buttons!” said winemaker and master of wine Bob Betz. “It shows, especially to bidders from outside the area, Washington state’s presence on the world stage now.”

The auction is “private” to members of the trade who traveled from as far as Europe, New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, and California for a chance to bid on Washington state’s top-tier blends, including lots like Sparkman Cellar’s 2016 “Black Dragon,” made from 50% Malbec and 50% Petit Verdot.

“The winemakers really took hold of the concept this year and made unique wines,” said event director Jamie Peha. “These wines are made in exclusive, five-case lots so members of the trade, restaurateurs and retailers who purchase these wines can then market them for their top clients across the country.”

The auction has raised $270,000 in the past three years and that cumulative total was almost surpassed by this year’s auction that took place on Aug. 16 at Novelty Hill-Januik Winery in Woodinville. The 2017 auction raised $137,000. Helmed by auctioneer Ursula Hermancinski, the auction featured 31 lots and the top lots included Lot 7 2016 “Holy Roller” Cabernet Sauvignon by Leonetti Cellars in Walla Walla, and Lot 30 2017 “Old Block” Cabernet Sauvignon by DeLille Cellars in Woodinville, each selling for $16,000 per lot.

“The room is a who’s who of the best wineries in Washington State,” said Marty Clubb the managing winemaker and owner of L’Ecole No. 41 in Lowden. “Our goal is to out-do the other wineries. We all want to have the best wine on the floor. Of course, each one of us puts our best foot forward in making a stand-out, stand-alone wine.”

Chris Figgins, winemaker and owner of Leonetti Cellars, said of his top-lot wine, “Our other five vineyards are on hillside loess, but this wine is on the cobbles, down on The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater. So it’s pretty exciting — it’s completely different stylistically from our other Leonetti wines.”

“The Sparkmans are very interested in both goals of education and research,” said Linn Scott, winemaker for Sparkman Cellars. “We were the featured vintner last year, and are really honored to be included this year again, both in the private barrel auction and the picnic auction tonight at Ste. Michelle.”

Inaugural entry lots included JM Cellars 2017 “Twentieth Vintage Small Batch Syrah,” Seven Hills Winery 2016 “Private Barrel Auction Merlot,” Rasa Vineyards 2016 “Proprietor’s Reserve,” Mullan Road Cellars 2017 red blend, Ambassador Wines of Washington 2017 Estate Cabernet, Lauren Ashton Cellars 2017 Cabernet Franc, Rotie Cellars 2016 Tannat, and Cadence Winery 2016 “Old Vine Cabernet Franc,” which sold for a whopping $13,000.

“This is the first time we’re participating,” said Billo Naravane of Rasa Vineyards in Walla Walla. “I used to teach over at WSU, so I have a great kinship with the university, and the program there.”

“I’ve been making wine for over 20 years, and I’ve seen the state go from 128 wineries to 950 wineries now," said John Bigelow, owner and winemaker of JM Cellars in Woodinville. "The thing that this auction really represents is how, with all that growth, we’re still founded with a soul. There are so many people in this room who I’ve evolved with over the years — they’re all the soul of this place.”

For many, the event offered more than just a chance to benefit a good cause. Mark Ryan Winery and Sleight of Hand Cellars, two Walla Walla wineries that recently collaborated with the band Pearl Jam to create a wine brand to raise funds to fight against homelessness, offered up a 2017 Petit Verdot and a 2017 Syrah, respectively. “For me, personally, the private barrel auction is not just for a great cause, but it’s also a great place and time to connect with friends from the industry,” said Mark McNeilly the executive winemaker and owner of Mark Ryan.

For others, like veteran winemaker Brian Carter of Brian Carter Cellars in Woodinville, it’s an opportunity to showcase the art of the blend, as evidenced by his 2017 “Francophile” from Dineen Vineyard. “I specialize in blends,” Carter said. “So it was kind of intriguing to be able to make a Bordeaux blend that was mostly Cabernet Franc. It’s a really beautiful, feminine take on Bordeaux wine.”

“This is the third year we’ve done this, and I always look forward to it," said host Mike Januik, the winemaker and owner of Novelty-Hill Januik. "I used to struggle to figure out what I could do to contribute to the auction because there are so many people with so many great ideas. So when we were originally asked to host, I thought, “That’s great!” That can be our little thing that we do, and I feel good about that.”

Melissa Hansen, research program manager for the Washington State Wine Commission, said the funds support a program intended to help both wineries and growers. “Washington State University’s Viticulture and Enology Program is kind of the umbrella for research, both in the vineyard and at the winery, that’s really propelled this state in the last 15 to 20 years to its current level,” she said. “It’s one of the few programs in the nation where you have both grower and winery supporting research together."

“It all gets down to the quality of the fruit, the quality of the wine making, and the people who do it. This is the best of the best,” said Betz.


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