Is this the start of a special year for charity wine auctions? Heading into March, bidders were still buzzing over the Naples Winter Wine Festival’s $13.4 million live-auction results, and their enthusiasm was on display at three big charity wine events.
On March 4, Portland, Ore.’s Classic Wines Auction brought in an event-record $3.5 million, $1.8 million of which was raised during the live auction. “We made some significant changes [to the auction’s format and length],” said Heather Martin, executive director. “It just sort of all came together.”
The auction, which benefits five local charities, dedicates a portion of the evening to allow some of the charities’ recipients to share their emotional stories, covering topics such as domestic violence and mental health. “One [guest] was a woman who was helped by the YWCA, which has a domestic violence [prevention] program,” said Martin. “I’ve known her, but wasn’t aware that she was a victim for many years …. It was very impactful.”
The top-selling lot, which went for $108,000, was a weekend trip to Rombauer Vineyards in Napa for three couples, including a barrel tasting, cave tour and dinner at Wine Spectator Grand Award winner the French Laundry. The night’s highest-earning wine lot, at $16,000, was a 14-bottle Bordeaux package that included bottles of Pétrus and Château Haut-Brion 1989.
Following on Classic Wine Auction’s boot spurs was Rodeo Uncorked! Champion Wine Auction, which raised $1.8 million on March 5. Since 2004, Rodeo Uncorked!, which promotes agriculture and provides scholarships to Texas residents, has kicked off the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.
A new text message technology for the silent auction created an interactive dynamic, allowing patrons to place bids through their smart phones and compete for the highest bid in real time. “I think it promoted a little bit more competition,” said Allyson Tjoelker, the show’s executive director of agriculture competitions and exhibits. It seems that innovation paid off: The silent auction results increased by 43 percent over last year's.
The festivities also included the annual Champion Wine Garden, a nightly event during the show where the public can taste more than 70 award-winning wines from the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Wine Competition, held the preceding fall. “We are attracting an audience that we wouldn’t otherwise attract. You think about a livestock show [and] you think about carnival food, but this garden has proved to be successful because it’s something unique for our patrons,” said Tjoelker.
The tasting is a preview of the auction as well: Many of the live-auction lots are made up of winning wines from the competition. This year’s wines brought in a total of $1.2 million. Of the more than 2,800 entries hailing from 20 countries, a Spanish white, the Arínzano White Gran Vino 2010, and a Napa red from a Texas winery, Nice Winery Malbec Mount Veeder Notorious 2013, earned top honors; the two auction lots consisting of 4 cases of each of those two wines sold for a combined total of $275,000.
With 2017 marking the 25th anniversary of the High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction, this year’s event was deemed “The Big One,” celebrating $28 million worth of contributions over the past quarter-century. Guests of honor included Michael Browne and Dan Kosta of Kosta Browne and Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climat, whose lots were among those contributing to the $1.1 million live-auction total. Clendenen’s lot offered 25 cases of Au Bon Climat Pinot Noirs realized $100,000. Kosta Browne’s 20th-anniversary package, which sold for $40,000, included three etched 3-liter bottles of a custom blend commemorating the 25th anniversary of the auction and the 20th anniversary of Kosta Browne, along with dinner and a stay at Sonoma's Farmhouse Inn.
The auction also hosted some of the most well-known culinary names in the South to collaborate for the dine-around and winemaker dinners, as well as a Friday Fête. Chris Hastings of Hot and Hot Fish Club in Birmingham, Ala., was this year’s guest chef, and restaurants including Grand Award winner Blackberry Farm in Walland, Tenn., and Best of Award of Excellence–winning Atlanta restaurants Canoe and Restaurant Eugene offered lots throughout the night. Hirsch Vineyards' Jasmine Hirsch and Raleigh, N.C., chef Ashley Christensen offered a lot that included a three-night stay at Blackberry Farm for its “Of the Land” event, at which Christensen will be cooking, a private wine tasting with Hirsch, 3 magnums of Hirsch San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir and meals at all five of Christensen's restaurants in Raleigh.
“[Restaurateurs and those from the wine industry] really feel that Atlanta has come up in wine sophistication, as well as wine sales,” said High Museum Atlanta Wine Auction manager Steve Hargrove. “We used to be maybe a Top 20 market. Well, now it’s definitely a Top 10 market for wine sales, and we think the wine auction has contributed to that.”