The Auction of Washington Wines celebrated its 30th year by hitting new heights, raising more than $4.1 million for Seattle Children's Hospital and the Viticulture & Enology program at Washington State University. Following several days of winemaker dinners, picnics and a barrel auction, the Aug. 19 gala served as the weekend's culmination.
"The energy was unlike anything I've ever experienced at this event," executive director Sherri Swingle told Wine Spectator. "People were super excited, the wine lots were on a different level, and the 30th anniversary was an opportunity for the industry to celebrate the milestones and the accomplishments that they had as well."
This year's event also coincided with the 50th anniversary of the weekend's host, Chateau Ste. Michelle, the state's largest wine producer. "This was a milestone weekend celebrating Chateau Ste. Michelle's 50th anniversary," CEO Ted Baseler told Wine Spectator via email.
The auction has seen tremendous growth over the past few years. In 2015, the auction's live bids raised a little over $990,000; in 2016, the number rose to $1.9 million, and hit approximately $2.1 million this year. (Auction organizers were still finalizing bid totals at press time.) Swingle attributes the swift growth to the Washington wine industry's development. "We've really tried to wave that Washington flag, and there are a lot of people here in our community, as well as outside the community, who are loving what is happening with Washington."
At $100,000, the evening's top lot featured a trip to Italy with tours of some of Antinori's wineries. Other top lots included a 3-bottle collection and dinner with Christophe Baron of Cayuse Vineyards which sold for $50,000, and a 37-year vertical of Leonetti Cellar Cabernet Sauvignon, which went for $32,500.
Wine Spectator executive editor Thomas Matthews served as this year's honorary chair. He received a standing ovation when he announced that the Wine Spectator Scholarship Foundation would be donating $1 million to WSU's Viticulture & Enology Program.
Grapegrower Tom Merkle and vintners Chris and Kelly Sparkman of Sparkman Cellars were also honored. "Sparkman Cellars represents a new generation here in Washington," said Swingle. "We have our older, more established brands, but our new generation of winemakers is now coming into their own and really helping support this effort in Washington state."