If the Premiere Napa Valley 2012 wine auction is any indication, the economic rebound—at least for the rarest wines from some of Napa's elite wineries—is well under way.
Certainly the mood at Premiere was upbeat. Held Saturday at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Premiere raised $3.1 million from the sale of 200 lots of wine futures, an impressive 31 percent increase over last year's event.
The wines on display, mostly Cabernets and blends thereof from 2010, showed the strength of the vintage at its finest. Winemakers were more enthusiastic about the vintage Saturday than they were when the grapes were picked. By most standards, 2010 was an unusually challenging year. How typical these wines are of the broader vintage remains to be seen. Most barrel samples are months away from being bottled and a year or two out from release.
The 2010 growing season was marked by a cold, wet spring and a cool summer, dramatized by rain at harvest. Grapes faced a gamut of obstacles—shatter, botrytis, mildew, rot, sunburn. The hand-picked wines poured Saturday, often from the top barrels, showed none of those side effects. They were uniformly dark-hued, rich and flavorful, at times both powerful and elegant. Only a few seemed off kilter, perhaps because they were barrel samples in an awkward stage of development.
The wines auctioned were one-of-a-kind cuvées made exclusively for this event in 5- to 20-case allotments. Buyers are members of the wine trade. Proceeds benefit the host Napa Valley Vintners to underwrite its activities, including Auction Napa Valley, which benefits Napa-area health organizations.
A horde of wine types squeezed into the CIA to taste the barrel samples. It's one of those events where wine tasting turns into a contact sport.
Most of the wines I tried were fantastic, which is what you would expect. Vintners cull some of their finest barrels for these unique offerings. Some of the wines do trickle into the market, but based on the prices paid—the highest bid was $70,000 for 5 cases of Dana Estates 2010 Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, or about $1,167 a bottle—they are well out of reach for most Napa wine lovers.
Napa retailer Mark Pope, of the Bounty Hunter, was the event's top bidder. After the Dana Estates 2010, the other top-selling wines came from Kapcsandy Family Winery, Ovid Napa Valley, Checkerboard Vineyards, Vine Hill Ranch, Joseph Phelps Vineyards, Amuse Bouche, Duckhorn Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars, Levy and McClellan and Shafer Vineyards.
The Premiere auction capped what has turned into a weeklong event hosted by Napa vintners. It's a gathering of wine retailers, restaurant buyers, wholesalers and wine importers and media from across the country and around the world. The success of Saturday's tasting and auction reflects the Napa Valley Vintners' prowess at wining and dining the wine trade and, in turn, the trade's high level of interest in Napa Valley wines.
Elyse J Ward — Buffalo Grove, IL — February 27, 2012 4:31pm ET
Louis Robichaux — Highland Village, Texas — February 27, 2012 6:23pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — February 27, 2012 6:39pm ET
Rob Freelen — SF, CA — March 2, 2012 3:57pm ET
James Laube — Napa, CA — March 2, 2012 5:33pm ET
Marc Stein — Aspen, Colorado — December 9, 2013 10:49am ET
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