Photographs by Kent Hanson
With Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno on hand, there was no shortage of star power at this weekend's Auction Napa Valley, which raised a near-record total of $10.35 million, falling just short of the high set in 2005. But one VIP was not there: Robert Mondavi. His presence was felt, however--the top lot at Saturday's live auction was a tribute to the late vintner, one of the founders of the annual charity event, now in its 28th year.
Almost 900 people gathered under the big white tent on the lawn of Meadowood Resort in St. Helena for the Saturday auction and dinner. Though bidding appeared subdued, the live auction raised $8.6 million, slightly better than last year. A paddle raise drew $1.7 million, as scores of bidders pledged amounts ranging from $1,000 to $500,000 for Clinic Ole, which provides medical care to needy families in the valley.
Crowds gathered for wine and food at the Meadowood Resort before Saturday's live auction began.
The lot honoring Mondavi was also collaborative; bidders vied for seats at a June 28 party marking what would have been his 95th birthday, with dinner prepared by chefs Charlie Trotter, Alice Waters, Julian Serrano, Gary Danko and Jean-Georges Vongerichten. Each of the 90 attendees will also receive signed and etched bottles from the nine sponsoring producers, which include Robert Mondavi, Opus One and Staglin, whose owners, Garen and Shari Staglin, organized the lot. The final take was $840,000.
Screaming Eagle once again proved its appeal. David Li, an Internet entrepreneur from Shanghai, China, paid $500,000 for six magnums of the 1992. "I love Screaming Eagle," Li said. "Napa Valley wines are the best in the world." Li ranked among the evening's top bidders, having also bought the first lot, a collection of 104 magnums of Napa wine, for $150,000.
The Frank Family lot, another perennial favorite, took in $480,000. Former VeriSign CEO Stratton Sclavos of Saratoga, Calif., who has snatched up the Frank Family Vineyards' lot in previous years, walked away with a bounty that included a walk-on role on the popular Grey's Anatomy TV show, tickets to star-studded American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement awards in Los Angeles, dinner prepared by Mario Batali, a six-night luxury trip to New Zealand wine country and a collection of wines.
Internet entrepreneur David Li of Shanghai raises his paddle as he bids for six magnums of Screaming Eagle 1992.
During the bidding for the Frank lot, auctioneer Fritz Hatton tried to coax Winfrey, who was sitting in the audience, into buying the lot, saying "Oprah, you want a walk-on on Grey's Anatomy, don't you?" Winfrey, one of the most powerful people in entertainment, laughed cordially.
Wearing a long white dress, Winfrey greeted fans warmly throughout the evening. "I love wine," Winfrey said during a break in the action. "My cellar is mostly French wine, Bordeaux. This is the first time I've really experienced California wine, and I love it. Napa Valley, living here is the life you dream of."
Before the bidding began on Saturday, the well-dressed crowd sipped sparkling wine on the lawn as a jazz quartet provided background music. They nibbled on goodies such as foie gras cheese toasties and short ribs before settling in for dinner prepared by chefs including Ken Frank of Napa's La Toque and Hawaii's Alan Wong.
Oprah Winfrey with Stephen McPherson (left) and Richard Frank; the two men put together one of the top lots for the auction.
Leno, star of The Tonight Show, warmed up the crowd with shtick that was both funny and familiar, joking about everything from politics to obesity. The comedian remained on stage during the initial bidding, egging bidders on to spend more money. "Your very manhood is at stake here," he warned one bidder.
The auction weekend began on Thursday as individual wineries staged parties throughout the valley. Action went into high gear on Friday at the Taste Napa Valley's Marketplace, which drew a crowd of 3,000, including Winfrey, to Trinchero Family Estates in St. Helena. About 150 wineries poured alongside 60 restaurateurs and artisan food producers from the valley.
Making their way through the crowd were Napa residents James Rockett and his wife, Barbara. "This is incredible," Rockett said. "This is a county fair built around wine."
Winemakers Bo and Heidi Barrett at the Meadowood Resort before the main event.
Guests could taste and bid on 128 wines offered in the Friday barrel auction from the likes of Shafer (the top barrel lot at $85,100), Gemstone and D.R. Stephens. There was also a large bank of computers at which guests could join Internet users from around the world in bidding on 87 e-auction lots from Heitz Wine Cellars (owners Kathleen Heitz Myers and her family chaired this year's event), Domaine Chandon and others.
The barrel auction brought in a total of $1.4 million, while the e-auction raised $371,203.
Charles Banks, an owner of Screaming Eagle, looked out over the crowd at Saturday's live auction. A relative newcomer to the valley, he purchased the winery two years ago. The appeal of the auction, he said, is simple: "This is a chance for us to give back. It's a way of leveraging what we have to do something good."
1. Robert Mondavi Tribute—$840,000
A multi-bidder auction lot to participate in a 95th birthday party for the late Robert Mondavi. Includes a dinner prepared by chefs Charlie Trotter, Alice Waters, Julian Serrano, Gary Danko and Jean-Georges Vongerichten, plus signed and etched bottles from wineries such as Rubicon, Quintessa and Joseph Phelps.
2. Screaming Eagle—$500,000
Six magnums of 1992 Screaming Eagle and dinner at the winery.
3. Frank Family Vineyards and Promise Wine—$480,000
Includes a walk-on role in an episode of Grey's Anatomy, tickets to the star-studded American Film Institute Lifetime Achievement awards in Los Angeles, dinner prepared by Mario Batali, a six-night luxury trip to New Zealand wine country and a collection of wines.
4. Harlan Estate—$340,000
Ten magnums of Harlan Estate from the 1995 vintage through 2004 and dinner for eight at the property.
5. Blackbird Vineyards—$300,000
Includes three 3-liter bottles (2003-2005) of Blackbird Vineyards Bordeaux-style blend, four tickets to the exclusive Chanel fashion show in Paris, accommodations for four in Paris, plus dinner and a tour of Coco Chanel's private apartment.
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