Guests place their bids via paddles at the Willamette: The Pinot Noir Barrel Auction. ##Photo by Aubrie LeGault.

Going Blockbusters

WVWA inaugural auction raises $476,000

By Jade Helm

The inaugural Willamette: The Pinot Noir Barrel Auction opened with a word from the event’s committee chair, Josh Bergström. He said, “The brave and visionary wine pioneers did not move to this marginal climate to make marginal wines.”

And so it began.

“Eight. Can I get nine? Nine. Do I hear ten?  Sold to the gentleman in the aisle!” The crowd whooped and hollered as Bergström’s five-case lot from the family’s flagship vineyard sold for $10,000.

Approximately 400 invitation-only guests — in- and out-of-state buyers, collectors, restaurateurs, winemakers and volunteers — gathered at The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg for a memorable occasion. The excitement was palpable as auctioneer Fritz Hatton entranced the crowd with great skill and comic timing to keep the bids coming and everyone entertained. On the block were 2014 Pinot Noirs donated by 66 wineries, all located in the Willamette Valley. Fast and energetic, the process felt like the combination of a sporting event, celebration and live show; at one point Hatton nudged a bidder along, saying, “C’mon, I know you brought your Suburban.”

A year and a half in the making, the auction was the work of a special committee of the Willamette Valley Wineries Association. The goal was to raise money to support the marketing and branding efforts of the organization as well as raise awareness of Oregon wine in general. Participating brands were asked to not only donate their best 2014 Pinot Noir but to contribute wine that relates the Oregon wine story. The result: truly special offerings.

Sokol Blosser Winery auctioned a 10-case lot of Founder’s Block Pinot Noir from Old Vineyard Block, originally planted by the winery’s founders in 1971. Made by Alex Sokol Blosser, this wine was purchased by Beckendorf Liquors for $10,500. 

Adelsheim Vineyard auctioned its first single-block wine in its 40-year history, from Quarter Mile Lane Vineyard planted in 1972. When the lot auctioned for $15,000, founder David Adelsheim went directly to the winning bidder to thank her — buying wine in Oregon is still a personal experience even when there are 400 people buzzing around the room.

Other notable highlights included the five-case lot of never-released, estate-grown Bethel Heights 1994 Pinot Noir. Winemaker Ben Casteel’s custom bottling sold for $10,500 to an active group of bidders from Frederick Wildman & Sons of New York City.  A single-barrel estate wine made by Maggie Harrison of Antica Terra Winery sold for $13,000 to the Sea Island Resort in Georgia. Ten cases of Pinot Noir crafted from the Yamhill-Carlton and Dundee Hills AVAs by renowned Oregon winemaker Lynn Penner-Ash of Penner Ash Wine Cellars sold for $16,000 to the Houston restaurant Plonk Bistro.

Buyers and guests were treated to pre-auction festivities Friday, April 1. Shuttles ran from The Allison to tasting events showcasing all six Willamette Valley appellations. Winemakers congregated at three host tasting rooms to pour from bottles not included in the auction.

“Spring Catch” at Adelsheim featured a wild Northwest salmon bake by Hunt and Gather — some East Coast attendees had never seen salmon prepared this way. Wineries from the Chehalem Mountains, Ribbon Ridge and other unique winegrowing areas of the Willamette Valley poured samples while guitarist Jason Okamoto brought Gypsy- and Latin-inflected music to the event.

“Take Me Out to the AVA” at Penner-Ash included tasty bites by Portland icon Greg Higgins, live music by rock violinist Aaron Meyer and signed “Winemaker Cards,” which guests were encouraged to collect from an elite group of winemakers from both the Yamhill-Carlton and Eola-Amity AVAs.

At Alexana Estate, lucky visitors were treated to what the WVWA called “Wood-Fired Bites & Helicopter Flights.” Attendees tasted wines from McMinnville and Dundee Hills, as well as Willamette Valley vineyard blends, while sampling hot hors d’oeuvres from Red Hills Market and savoring unforgettable bird’s eye views courtesy of Precision Aviation.

The day of the auction, buyers had the opportunity to sample all the wines, chat with the winemakers and ready themselves for the battle of the bids. The fundraising goal of $370,000 was exceeded, as a total of $476,000 was raised. Hatton called it a “smashing success.” 

Bergström could not have been more pleased. He said, “It was thrilling to see the plans and work come together and to see people raising their paddles for Oregon Pinot Noir.”

Such fundraising success would have been a perfect end to the story. But as the Oregon wine industry is known for its camaraderie, the party continued outside in a festive tent filled with revelers enjoying vintage magnums meant for exactly this type of occasion. Some who had never visited Oregon got a real taste of what the wine industry here is all about.

A second auction is already planned for April 1, 2017. As Hatton expressed, “This is just the beginning.” 

For more information about Willamette: The Pinot Noir Barrel Auction and for a complete list of participating wineries, visit

Jade Helm is the primary author of Tasting Pour, a blog about wine, cocktails and food. Her expertise is evidenced by credentials from the Society of Wine Educators (Certified Specialist in Wine) and the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (Diploma in Wine and Spirits) and from the Court of Master Sommeliers (Certified Sommelier).

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