ABOVE: Auctioneer Fritz Hatton gets the crowd going at the 2019 Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction, hosted at The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg. ##Photo by Easton Richmond

Thanks a Mil

WVWA blasts record at 2019 Pinot auction

By Tamara Belgard

Another Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction has come and gone, but, like the finish of a fine wine, the impression still lingers. It was a raucous good time with an incredible ending, when six guests banded together to bid $60,000 for five cases of Duck Pond, bringing the record-breaking total raised to more than $1 million.

With standing-room only, a crowd of 450 members of the wine trade and media — including 128 bidders representing 26 states and three countries, and winemakers and principals from 89 wineries — gathered April 6, at The Allison Inn & Spa in Newberg, as 92 lots of the 2017 vintage were proffered.

The annual auction is organized by the Willamette Valley Winery Association (WVWA), a nonprofit industry association dedicated to achieving recognition for Oregon’s acclaimed Willamette Valley as a premier Pinot Noir-producing region. All the funds raised go toward the marketing, promotion and education of the association to the benefit of wineries in the Willamette Valley. For example, the annual road show promoting Willamette Valley wineries around the country, Pinot in the City, provides an opportunity for producers to come face-to-face with their customers in other markets.

Only in its fourth year, the Willamette: The Pinot Noir Auction continues to grow as evidenced by the increased number of bidders who know the quality of wines coming from the Willamette Valley. Shirley Brooks, event chair, and vice president of sales and marketing for Elk Cove Vineyards, concurs, “The results of this year’s auction continue to show that our region is strongly supported by the trade and interest in our wines is growing.” The average price paid per bottle this year reached $160, representing a 29% increase over the previous year, and a stunning 81.5% increase since the inaugural auction in 2016.

Retail and restaurant owners, as well as distributors, made up the group of big spenders. Brooks believes most buyers have a plan for the wines they buy before purchasing a lot. “Many are seasoned auction attendees of other wine auctions and have a customer base established for rare wines such as these. Some buyers will plan special tastings or dinners around these unique lots, which the wineries will help support by attending.”

The auction also doubled, for many, as an opportunity to get a first taste of the 2017 vintage, and from several Pinot producers. Though the wines are still young, the crowd used descriptors such as “elegant,” “well-balanced,” “acid-driven” and “deliciously approachable.” Some even compared them to the 2012 vintage but commented that they’re not as full and luscious, but instead more delicate, reflecting a cooler vintage.

The wines represented a variety of terroirs, a collection of small blocks, single-barrel bottlings and carefully crafted blends. The event also featured wineries of all kinds, from the large and well-known, to the small and highly sought-after, to the up-and-coming micro-producers.

For the auction, winemakers are encouraged to create clever, fanciful names for the lots, making them more memorable and showing the producer’s personality. Winemakers who heeded this advice included Harper Voit’s “Basalt-N-Pepa,” Hyland Estates’ “Age Gets Better with Wine” and Big Table Farm’s “The Love Ninja.”

Regarding that Duck Pond lot, Brooks says, “Well, that was unique. And most definitely a show of support of our industry as a whole. I, along with many of my peers, were personally touched by this act. As one told me, when they realized we were close to our goal of $1,000,000, they all agreed to collaborate to help us reach it — because that is what the Willamette Valley does, collaborate. Enough said.”

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