Sonoma Wine County Weekend breaks record

While earnings were flat at its more famous cousin in Napa this year, the Sonoma Harvest Wine Auction raised a record $4.6 million at Chateau St. Jean Winery on Sunday.

Even more impressive was the $2.7 million raised by 650 paddle-holders for 'Fund the Future' – a campaign which underwrites every major literacy program in Sonoma Valley as well as several countywide. This year's collection geared specifically at education was a giant increase from the $1.9 million raised in 2015. In total, Wine Country Weekend raised $5.7 million over the course of the three-day event.

Dan Kosta, the auction's honorary chairman, was the first to donate $250,000 on behalf of the entire team at Sebastopol's Kosta Browne Winery, as well as friends and supporters of the winery.

'My children are reading at grade level or above, but that's the minority in this county,' Kosta said. 'A total of 53 percent of third graders are reading below grade level.'

The auction theme, 'Sonoma to Marrakesh,' featured a live camel weighing more than a ton and a host of belly dancers.

The highlight of the day for many was the two dozen Sonoma Valley students who took the stage wearing bright yellow shirts and holding black-and-white signs with 'I read every day' and 'I like to read to my dog,' and who sang 'Seasons of Love' from 'Rent' with members of the Transcendence Theatre.

The top single lot of the day was actually sold twice for a total of $220,000. It featured two nights in Hollywood with VIP Golden Globe tickets and a private film screening. It also included a five-bottle collection of Buena Vista wine.

Lori and Steve Bush, co-owners of Oso restaurant in Sonoma, purchased one of the lots for $110,000.

'We also have a home in Manhattan Beach so we spend time in Los Angeles,' Lori Bush said. 'But we consider Sonoma our home and we really wanted to support the community.

Some bidders noticed a more serious element to the proceedings. There were no skits this year, and for the first time in more than a decade, the women vintners of the Magnum Force lot didn't introduce their offering with a whimsical dance routine.

Wine Country Weekend is a joint production of the Sonoma County Vintners and the Sonoma Valley Vintners and Growers.

Changes are afoot for next year, with auction slated for Sept. 17, and a new location yet to be determined.

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