The highly touted 2001 Napa Valley Cabernets kept the cash flowing at this past Saturday's annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction, which is held for members of the wine trade. The 138 lots brought in $938,000, the highest total in the event's seven-year history. That averaged out to $1,092 per case, $42 more than last year's average, but well off the record-setting $1,253 per case garnered at the 2001 Premiere.
The turnout was strong despite the slow economy, with more than 400 retailers, wholesalers and restaurateurs attending, some coming from as far away as Japan. Held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena, Calif., the annual auction features one-of-a-kind wines -- ones that will not otherwise be offered commercially -- in lots of 5, 10 or 20 cases. The wines, which are still aging in barrels, won't be released to the winning bidders until sometime between fall 2003 and December 2005.
At the Saturday morning barrel tasting preceding the auction, winemakers were buzzing about the 2001 Cabernets, which have already elicited comparisons with those of the great vintages of the 1990s. Rosemary Cakebread, winemaker at Spottswoode Vineyard in St. Helena, didn't mask her enthusiasm. "They're incredible. I think it's a powerful vintage, with a lot of structure and very perfumy," she said.
Ed Sbragia, senior vice president and winemaster for Beringer Vineyards, concurred. "In the years I've been making wine, this is one of the best. I'd rank it with '87, '91, '94 and '97," he said.
The 54 winning bidders apparently agreed. Of the top 10 lots, nine were 2001 Cabernet Sauvignons and one was a 2001 Cabernet Franc. Gary Fisch of Gary's Wine & Marketplace in Madison, N.J., was the top bidder of the day. He spent a total of $115,500 on 10 lots, including $30,000 for five cases of Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, the second most expensive lot at this year's event. The top lot was five cases of Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2001, which brought in $32,000 from Wayne Hirst, owner of Hirst Imports in Oklahoma City.
The proceeds will go mostly toward the operating expenses of the Napa Valley Vintners Association, a group of 220 Napa wineries that also sponsors the hugely successful Napa Valley Wine Auction, a charity fundraiser held every summer.
Although 75 of this year's 138 lots were Cabernets or Bordeaux-style blends from 2001, a number of other varietals were well represented, especially Syrah and Zinfandel. A few brave estates wandered off the well-trodden path with more adventurous blends containing Malbec, Tempranillo and Petite Sirah. Schramsberg Vineyards poured the event's sole white, a sparkling late-disgorged Brut Pinot Noir from the 1992 vintage.
Top Lots at Premiere 2003
1. Rombauer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$32,000 for 5 cases
2. Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$30,000 for 5 cases
3. Harlan Estate Cabernet Franc 2001
$26,000 for 5 cases
4. Hartwell Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$24,000 for 20 cases
5. Beringer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$19,000 for 20 cases
6. (tie) Pahlmeyer Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$17,000 for 5 cases
6. (tie) Spottswoode Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$17,000 for 5 cases
8. Robert Mondavi Winery Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$17,000 for 20 cases
9. Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$16,000 for 5 cases
10. D.R. Stephens Estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2001
$16,000 for 10 cases
Read about past auctions: