Before wine lovers raised a near-record $9.8 million at this weekend's Auction Napa Valley, comedian Dana Carvey was on stage sizing up the bidders. "Anyone worth $50 million, raise your hands," said Carvey, the evening's entertainment. "We're going to be relying on you a lot tonight. Thank God for capital gains."
Carvey got his wish, in the form of a new record high for a single bid: $1.1 million. But Carvey and the bid were the only big sparks in an otherwise subdued live auction, which contributed about $8.25 million to the total of the 27th annual charity fund-raiser. This year's overall take beat last year's $8.4 million tally, and was second only to the $10.5 million raised in 2005.
Saturday's live auction at Meadowood resort in St. Helena drew about 800 guests and vintners. John Thompson of Woodside, Calif., is the new single-bid record-holder, with his $1.1 million purchase of the Staglin Family Vineyard lot that included a luxury trip to Napa Valley and Italy as well as three 3-liter bottles of Stagliano Sangiovese. There was already a considerable bidding war over the lot when Garen Staglin sweetened the deal by offering to throw in a new Maserati if anyone bid more than $1 million.
As auctioneers Fritz Hatton and Ursula Hermacinski rallied the crowd to a near frenzy, Thompson sat stone faced, thinking it over, before finally offering the top bid. "The pressure didn't bother me," said Thompson, CEO of software company Symantec. "I put up with that every day at work."
|From left, Garen Staglin, John Thompson, chef Michael Chiarello, Shari Staglin and Sandi Thompson.|
The always-popular Screaming Eagle lot brought in the night's second-highest bid. Joy Craft, also of Woodside, who owns the High Point Ventures investment company, paid $500,000 for a camping trip for eight at the exclusive Oakville winery. Also included were three 3-liter bottles of Screaming Eagle from 2003, 2002 and 2001.
The live auction was the culmination of four days of events. A crowd of about 3,000 gathered Friday for the barrel auction at Trinchero Family Estates, where $1.23 million was raised. David Freed, chairman of Silverado Premium Partners, was the overall top bidder in the barrel auction, paying nearly $60,000 for 74 different cases of wine. Lawrence Schwartz, an attorney from Florham Park, N.J., paid $15,500 for a barrel of 2005 Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select. "I'm a big fan of the Shafer wines," Schwartz said.
On Saturday night, some of Napa Valley's top chefs worked behind the scenes to prepare dinner for the crowd. Chef Michael Chiarello served white bean crostini with rock shrimp, while Richard Reddington of Redd offered braised short ribs and rare filet.
While guests nibbled, Carvey warmed up the audience with a mix of impersonations and political humor. The comedian, best known as one of the top talents on Saturday Night Live in the 1990s, performed brilliant impersonations of Presidents George Bush (the former and the current) and Bill Clinton, as well as Johnny Carson and Woody Allen.
|More than 800 guests attended the auction.|
The comedian stayed onstage for the first few auction lots and continued his good-natured silliness, often exaggerating the lot offerings for comic value. "If you buy this lot, you'll have wine supplied for life from a spigot in your house." During the bidding for the Robert Mondavi Winery lot, Carvey noted that the package included two Tiffany rings and the use of a private jet. "Fellas," he advised, "this lot is for you. If you can't get lucky with diamond rings and a jet, I don't know what to tell you."
Along with the laughs, there were several poignant moments on Saturday evening. With no prize to be won, 68 bidders raised their paddles to pledge money for Clinic Ole, which offers medical services to Napa Valley's needy children. A total of $764,000 was raised, with auction chair Joseph Phelps encouraging the crowd to bid. Phelps joined with the Trinchero family to contribute $225,000.
At the end of the evening Saturday, the crowd bid farewell to auctioneer Hermacinski, who has pounded the gavel at nearly every Napa auction since 1992. She is retiring from auctioneering to become general manager of Screaming Eagle. "Next year," Hermacinski said, choking back emotion, "I'll be here as a bidder."
While it was a good year financially for the Napa auction, the Naples Winter Wine Festival continues to be the nation's top charity wine auction, bringing in $18.3 million earlier this year.
Top Live Auction Lots
1. Staglin Family Vineyards--$1.1 million
Bidder: John Thompson of Woodside, Calif.
Three 3-liter bottles and a driving tour of Italy hosted by the Staglins
2. Screaming Eagle--$500,000
Bidder: Joy Craft of Woodside, Calif.
Three 3-liter bottles and a campout at the vineyard
3. Hundred Acre--$400,000
18-liter bottle and dinner for 10
4. Harlan Estate--$380,000
Bidder: Ron Kuhn of Wheaton, Ill.
Four 3-liter bottles and dinner for eight
5. Napa Valley Vintners and Lexus--$360,000
Bidder: Mary Miner of Oakville, Calif.
A Lexus hybrid sedan, wine collection and a weekend in Napa Valley
6. Araujo Estate Wines--$340,000
Bidder: Joy Craft of Woodside, Calif.
Wine collection and dinner for 10
7. Colgin Cellars--$320,000
Seven bottles of wine, dinner for 10
8. Opus One--$280,000
Bidder: Ann Colgin of St. Helena, Calif.
10 magnums and a trip to Bordeaux
9. Shafer Vineyards--$250,000
Three 3-liter bottles and dinner for eight
10. NVV Connoisseurs Lot--$220,000
Bidder: José Nazar of Los Angeles
Wine collection, trip to Singapore for Premiere Festival del Sole
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