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Washington’s Private Barrel Auction bucks trend for declining prices

Washington State’s Private Barrel Auction (PBA) held on 15 March in Woodinville proved the exception to falling auction prices worldwide.

Prominent national wine trade members and private collectors recently hoisted a paddle to raise more than US$150,000 on bespoke barrel lots, benefitting Washington State University (WSU) Viticulture and Enology research.

“This is a way to get Washington wine out across the country to some larger trade people, retailers, restaurants, and distributors,” says Auction of Washington Wines executive director Jamie Peha. “The wines were stunning, and all had been sampled by Bob Betz MW prior to the event on March 15th.”

In all, over 30 wineries crafted exclusive, five-case lots showcasing Washington’s varied AVA’s, including Red Mountain, Yakima Valley, and Walla Walla.

The auction took US$25,000 more than its last sale, which took place in 2022 (there was no Private Barrel Auction held in 2023), bucking the recent trend for the falling value of auction bids. The 2022 event brought in US$125,000 in total.

Fetching the top prices at US$7,500 each were single, five-case lots from an Upchurch Vineyard/Betz Family Winery collaboration 2022 vintage of Heart of the Hill Winemakers Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, Red Mountain AVA, and FIGGINS 2022 Cabernet Sauvignon from the producer’s Walla Walla Valley estate. Other lot prices averaged approximately US$5,000.

“Research is so long term, you have to have a consistent base,” says Melissa Hansen, research programme director for Washington State Wine Commission. “This auction has really helped beef up the industry’s research efforts, to help us address and find solutions for grape growing and winemaking challenges.”

Ongoing WSU programmes include studies on leaf roll virus, grape mealy bug, smoke taint, and frost damage.

Established in 2015, this year PBA moved from August to March to coincide with TASTE Washington, the US’s largest, single-region wine and food festival.

“The reason I think this auction was successful financially is because Washington wines are a lot more affordable than many other wines out there on the market,” concludes Peha. “And they’re great wines.”

The top PBA bid pales in comparison to the highest bid at this year’s Premiere Napa Valley auction, which took place in February and saw Jayson Hu’s Fairest Creature blend fetch US$70,000. The buyer was Gregor Greber, owner of NapaWine in Switzerland. The wines will be sold at Greber’s  Napa Grill restaurant in Zurich.

While the highest bid price was lofty, overall the Napa auction raised less money than in 2023, (US$3 million compared with US$3.4 million).









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