What to expect at the Sonoma County Barrel Auction

The Sonoma County Barrel Auction is Friday, and the invitation-only trade event, now in its second year, is expected to reel in more than last year's take of $460,000 from bidders impressed by Sonoma County wine.

By all accounts, the inaugural fundraiser in 2015 also was a success logistically, helping the Sonoma County Vintners raise the profile of local wines among members of the wine trade and media. This year attendees are coming to the Vintners Inn in Santa Rosa from as far away as Tokyo to participate in the day-long auction of wine futures.

The trade association's interim executive director, Jean Arnold Sessions, talks about what it takes to give birth to a new event, the growing pains and the successes.

Q: In what ways were you successful in the first year of the event?

It was our first ever auction, and our membership came together to host more than 200 wine trade and media attendees from around the country. The wine futures raised over $460,000 and helped create lasting trade and media relationships. We were able to share the stories of the icons that helped create the wine community we have today, and it also placed Sonoma County on the global stage. I'd say that was a huge success.

Q: What could you improve upon?

With any new program you gain valuable insights, and we are working to implement several of them. We want to keep growing winery participants, the number of auction lots and, ultimately, auction revenue.

We also want to create unique trade buyer experiences by further developing and promoting pre-auction programs where AVAs can showcase their auction wines and sub-appellations.

For example, there was an AVA tasting day in 2015 at four locations throughout the county. It was a great opportunity for the trade and media to experience the diversity of Sonoma County, but was somewhat challenging for them to attend all of the programs due to the distance between locations.

This year our AVAs are working together on two tasting programs that streamline the experience and provide richer educational components.

Once again this year we are welcoming trade and media guests from around the world, some from as far away as Tokyo. The connections we make during the Sonoma County Barrel Auction events are an opportunity for each of our members to build lasting impressions and relationships with the key influencers who will impact Sonoma County wines for years to come and also continue to elevate the Sonoma County brand globally.

Q: How was the $460,000 used? Who did it go to and why?

The Barrel Auction was created to raise funds for the umbrella association and is a way for us to manage and host this event without requiring community or county funding. I am happy to say we shared 50 percent of the net revenue of the auction sales after expenses with our participating Barrel Auction AVA members. After meeting with several participating AVAs, this year we will also include ticket sales to share in this plan.

I don't believe it's common practice for winery regional trade associations to share event revenue with association members in support of the entire region.

Q: What ultimate goals do you have five years out? 10 years out?

Like Sonoma Wine Country Weekend, we hope the Barrel Auction continues to break new records. Bidders from last year have said it is one of Sonoma County's best new programs, and I believe we've just begun to scratch the surface.

For more information about the event, visit:

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