Time in a bottle: Here’s your chance to own Washington’s most famous wine

A bottle of the award-winning Leonetti Cellar 1978 cabernet sauvignon is part of a vertical — 37 years of every Leonetti cab — up for auction Aug. 19.

A COMPLETE VERTICAL of Leonetti Cellar’s legendary cabernet sauvignon — including perhaps the single most important wine ever made in Washington — will go up for sale at the 30th annual Auction of Washington Wines.

The event will be held Aug. 17-19 at Chateau Ste. Michelle in Woodinville. The gala auction, where this one-of-a-kind lot will be sold, takes place Aug. 19.

Hank Sauer, a retired educator who grew up in Walla Walla and built his career in Kennewick, is donating his collection of Leonetti wines to the auction. He says he hopes they’ll do more good there than they are collecting dust in his custom-built wine cellar.

Dating to the infancy of Leonetti — the early 1980s, when the Walla Walla producer rose to prominence nationally — Sauer began to collect the wines. It wasn’t necessarily because he thought the wines were great, but because he and Gary Figgins, owner and founding winemaker for Leonetti, were childhood friends. When Figgins started making wine, Sauer began buying it. Year after year he accumulated it, to the point that now he has a collection that includes every single red wine ever made by Leonetti Cellar.

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This isn’t about wine; it’s about enduring friendship.

“Gary and I grew up together,” Sauer says. “We were 10 houses apart. We were very close.”

Sauer remembers the first Leonetti weekend vividly.

“The word on the street was that Gary was making wine, so Nancy (Hank’s wife) and I decided to check it out.”

Little did he realize he was witnessing the beginning of a phenomenon.

It was 1981, and Figgins had just publicly released his first red wine, the 1978 cabernet sauvignon. It had won a gold medal in summer 1980 at the Tri-City Wine Festival, an award that earned it entrance into a 1981 competition by Winestate Wine Buying Guide, a nationally circulated publication out of California that today is a top periodical based in Australia.

That same year, Wine & Spirits magazine named the Leonetti cab the best in the nation, sealing the upstart winery’s reputation and raising the bar for all who followed.

Figgins told the Tri-City Herald he almost didn’t enter the judging because he didn’t want to give up two bottles of his wine.

The Walla Walla wine…

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