9 Reasons to Attend the 2018 Sonoma County Barrel Auction & My 2017 Favorites


The recent Sonoma County Barrel Auction was a fun experience and featured some really lovely wines. In a blog for JJ Buckley yesterday, I gave an overview of the auction and then focused on multi-winery, multi-vineyard Pinot Noir blends which showed how the differing mesoclimates within West Sonoma Coast and Russian River Valley can create substantial diversity within each of those regions. Please give it a read.

In today’s article, I cover two more Sonoma County Barrel Auction-related topics. First is my “Top Nine List” of benefits to attending the auction if you’re in a buying role for a restaurant or wine shop. Then I highlight some of my favorite wines from this year’s auction.

Why Go to the Sonoma County Barrel Auction if you’re a Buyer

  1. The Sonoma County Barrel Auction sells one-of-a-kind, never made before wines in small lots ( 5–20 cases). Limited releases like that are enticing for consumers. That can drive sales and enhance your reputation as a cool, connected business.
  2. Sonoma County is highly-respected for wine quality across the country. That makes the rare lots even more attractive to consumers.
  3. The majority of Sonoma County Barrel Auction lots feature America’s most popular varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.
  4. But there’s a lot more than just those three varieties and there is diversity in style. There are auction lots for mainstream California wine drinkers, for Old World fans and for hip somms.
  5. All of the wines are good and, since some of the producers aren’t household names, you might be able to get a bargain or two.
  6. Many of the lots are even better values than at first it might appear, because the price includes not just wine but a store visit or attendance at a winemaker dinner.
  7. Participation by vintners is active. It’s easy to get face time with winemakers and proprietors and to build connections.
  8. The scale of the Sonoma County Barrel Auction makes the auction a comfortable affair. You won’t feel like you’ve got the middle seat in economy on a cross-country flight.
  9. It’s a fun event and the mood is very Sonoma—organized, but cordial and relaxed.

Some of my favorite wines from the 2016 Sonoma County Barrel Auction

I went to all the Sonoma County Barrel Auction preview tastings, but there are plenty of wines I didn’t manage to taste. And I didn’t takes notes on every wine I did taste. So, if your favorite wine—or the wine you made—isn’t on this list, don’t shoot me. But do feel free to give it a shout-out in the comments section. Also, this list is in alphabetical order, not ranked by quality, etc.

2015 Belden Barns “Serendipity” Pinot Noir, Belden Barns Estate Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain

Belden Barns is one of my favorite, super-small producers in Sonoma County. Their wines never taste like everyone else’s and can be very pretty. Winemaker Justin Harmon fermented nine clones of cool-climate Pinot Noir—all picked on one day from the best part of the vineyard—whole cluster in neutral oak. It’s a fresh and pretty Pinot with a nose of spicy, forest herb and dark red fruit. The palate reiterates the aromas but adds dark cocoa.

2016 The Calling “Follow Your Calling to New Heights” Pinot Noir, van der Kamp Vineyards, Sonoma Mountain

This wine is mostly made from a clone alleged to have been spirited away from the famed La Tache Vineyard. That fruit is supplemented with the van der Kamp’s “Old Vine” Pinot which some say is among the oldest plantings of that variety in the state. The vineyard itself sits at 1,250 to 1,500 feet on Sonoma Mountain, giving the vines plenty of sun but keeping them on the cool side as well. The wine is a generous medium body with ripe, pretty aromas of raspberry and blueberry. The fruit-focused palate offers attractive herb and spice with moderate, fine-grained tannins.

2016 Daniel “Past & Future” Calera Clone Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley

Daniel Fitzgerald made this wine for his eponymous winery even splits of Pinot from the Cattiva Vineyard and Laguna Vineyard. This is the first time he’s ever released a clonally designated wine. The result is elegantly fruit-forward with medium-body, lip-smacking red fruit and excellent balance between fruit, acidity, structure and alcohol. Glasses won’t stay full for long.

2015 Fisher Vineyards “40th Vintage High Elevation Heritage” Chardonnay Whitney’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove District

The vineyard is located high up in Sonoma County’s newest AVA, Fountaingrove. If you’re familiar with Napa Valley, think of it as the back side of Spring Mountain. The grapes are Old Wente clone, aka the shot-berry clone. Despite being grafted onto AXR, the vines are still producing at 40 years old. The age and small average berry size creates great intensity on the nose and palate. Fermentation was with native yeast and the wine is being aged sur lie in French barrique, 50% new. It’s very juicy and silky in the mouth with aromas and flavors of pear, green and yellow apples, and spice.

2015 Fisher Vineyards “Cabernet’s Brilliant Alter Ego” Cabernet Franc Wedding Vineyard, Fountaingrove District

There’s just one acre of Cabernet Franc, planted in 2001, in Fisher’s Wedding Vineyard. They make a varietal wine from it every now and again. This “barrel selection” is great. Gorgeous red currant, mulberry leaf and dark flowers on the nose are joined on the palate by coffee, dark berries and spice. It’s lively and lovely in the mouth with acidity, body and tannins that are all on the generous side of medium.

2015 Francis Ford Coppola Winery “Eureka!” Cabernet Sauvignon Blue Oak Vineyard, Alexander Valley

This is 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from the Blue Oak Vineyard which is the primary source of Coppola’s flaghship “Archimedes” Sonoma County Cabernet. Eureka! is beautifully balanced and graceful with medium-plus body and sensuous texture. There’s freshness to the wine as well and it’s what I like to call a full-spectrum Cabernet. It offers not just tasty fruit but also dark mineral and savory herb.

2015 Knights Bridge Winery “Get to Know Knights Bridge” Petit Verdot Knights Bridge Estate, Knights Valley

This was my first exposure to Knights Bridge, whose estate vineyard runs from 300 to 900ft on rocky, volcanic soil near the southern edge of the Knights Valley AVA. Petit Verdot is a variety of which a little often goes a long way. Not so in this case as the combination of warm climate, austere soil and eco-friendly viticulture has produced a tasty and very drinkable PV. Medium-plus body in the mouth with, as you would expect from Petit Verdot, plenty of tannins, but they are fine, chalky and attractive even now, 19 months prior to release. Long-lasting flavors of dark fruit and violets meld with oak.

2015 Linked Vineyards “The Fabulous Five Percent” Cabernet Sauvignon Linked Vineyards Knights Valley

Luc Morlet makes the wine for tiny Linked Vineyards. Their total production is just 120 cases, which makes them pretty generous as they donated 5 cases to the auction. And it’s a glorious wine too. Rich aromas of deep, black fruit, lavender and mineral are also present on the palate, along with coffee, dark caramel and dark chocolate. It’s full-bodied in the mouth with fine, soft, luxurious tannins and a long finish.

2016 Patz & Hall “Magnum Cum Laude” Pinot Noir Russian River Valley

From a vineyard block planted just for Patz & Hall near Occidental, this Pinot Noir shows depth, balance and complexity. Aromas of black cherry and dark earth are complimented by tea and flowers on the palate. Body, acidity and the fine-grained tannins are all medium to medium-plus and the finish is long.

2016 Paul Hobbs Winery “Great Things Happen in Threes” Pinot Noir, Sonoma County

This is the first-ever prestige blend of top blocks from the Paul Hobbs Katherine Lindsay Estate in Russian River Valley, Paul Hobbs Goldrock Ridge Estate in Sonoma Coast and Fraenkle Cheshier Vineyard in Green Valley. It’s long, juicy and sleek with rich, tangy red fruit, dark flowers, herb and spice.

2015 Ravenswood “Black Bart’s 1888” Zinfandel Sonoma Valley

Joel Peterson used 126-year old vines from the Old Hill Ranch, Bariccia and Bedrock Vineyards to make this drop-dead gorgeous Zinfandel. The black, blue and red fruit is beautifully balanced by very fine, soft tannins and mouth-watering acidity. It’s a Zinfandel that will age very well, if its buyers can resist the temptation to drink it all right away.

2016 Russian River Valley Winegrowers “Neighborhood Expressions” Pinot Noir Sebastopol Hills

Alex Kanzler, Greg LaFollette, Brian Maloney and Kathleen Inman teamed up to make this four winery, four vineyard blend from the foggy, breezy hills south-southwest of Sebastopol. There are flowers and herbs and black tea and bay leaves and even red fruit in this dynamic, fresh and medium-bodied wine. 60% whole cluster, 100% tasty.

2016 Twomey Cellars “Last Stop” Pinot Noir Last Stop Vineyard, Russian River Valley

The vineyard sits at what used to be the end-of-the-line for the Petaluma-Santa Rosa rail line and this wine might stop you in your tracks with its bright red and purple fruit, flowers and exotic spice.

2015 Viluko Vineyards “Return of the King” Cabernet Sauvignon Fountaingrove District

Timothy Milos created this estate blend of 85% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Malbec which will ship to the lucky buyer in February, 2018. It’s medium-bodied wine with loads of fine, persistent, chalky tannins lifted by acidity and bright red and black fruit.

2016 West Sonoma Coast Vintners “Amazing Annapolis” Pinot Noir, West Sonoma Coast

This is a blend of four Pinots: Peay and Failla wines from the Peay Vineyard, Alma Fria from their estate Holtermann Vineyard and Gros Ventre Cellars from Campbell Ranch. It is medium-bodied with fine, “firmisoft” tannins that should be fully softened upon release in November. The flavors and aromas of black cherry, rose petal and earth have excellent intensity and persistence—long finish!

2016 West Sonoma Coast Vintners “West Sonoma Wonderland” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast

Peay Vineyards, Littorai Wines, Red Car Wine Company, Freeman Vineyard, Failla Wines, DuMOL and Gregory James Wines united some of their favorite vineyards, creating a fresh and gentle palate with pretty, red fruit and fine, soft tannins. This is the yang to Amazing Annapolis’ yin.

Copyright Fred Swan 2017. Photo Courtesy of Sonoma County Vintners. All rights reserved.

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