When the final hammer fell Saturday evening at Auction Napa Valley in St. Helena, Calif., there had been a few surprises: a record-setting $1.05 million lot, a bidder turning down dinner with actress Geena Davis and a public avowal from American Idol host Ryan Seacrest that he does indeed like women.
Well, maybe it wasn't that surprising, because the annual event always bottles a combustible cuvée of money, wine and celebrity. This year's auction raised a hefty $8.4 million, the third-highest total in the charity fundraiser's 26-year history. Although the final tally didn't match last year's record total of $10.5 million, the $1.05 million spent for a package featuring Staglin Family Vineyard wines and an 8-day trip to Bordeaux, Champagne and Paris set a new record for a single bid.
Joy Craft of Woodside, Calif., bought the lot, shattering the previous record bid at the auction, $700,000 in 2000 for a 10-vintage vertical of magnums from Harlan Estate. After the bidding, Craft was clearly delighted with the purchase. "It's one of the most exciting things of my life to be able to give back something like that," said Craft, who owns High Point Ventures investment company and attended her first Napa auction last year.
|From left, Garen Staglin, Ryan Seacrest, Shari Staglin and bidder Joy Craft, who spent more than $1 million for the Staglin Family lot.|
Saturday's live auction, which raised $7.4 million, took place at Meadowood Resort in a sweltering tent that was packed with 900 guests, vintners and members of the media bidding and cheering as limited-production wines, along with dining and travel packages, went on the block. Napa Valley's most esteemed estates donated the 60 lots. Rounding out the final $8.4 million tally were the proceeds from the event's barrel and online auctions.
Seacrest, host of television's biggest hit, hosted the evening's festivities and kicked off the bidding by offering two sets of tickets to the taping of next season's show, bringing in $70,000. Introducing himself to the crowd, Seacrest quipped, "If you're wondering, I do like women, despite how I sometimes dress. And wine."
He had plenty of wine-loving company. M.K. Koo of Hong Kong spent $460,000 for a complete 12-vintage vertical of Screaming Eagle magnums, starting with the debut 1992 bottling. Geena Davis, who starred in the ABC television series Commander in Chief, tried to up the ante by offering to dine with the winning bidder if they'd pony up $580,000.
But Koo wasn't biting. "You've got to find another bidder, Geena," cracked auctioneer Fritz Hatton. "He only wants the wine."
After purchasing the lot, Koo explained a bit sheepishly why he wasn't so interested in the dinner invitation, although he did have the funds to purchase two other wine-centric lots donated by Joseph Phelps and Dalla Valle. "I live in Hong Kong. I like the lots with only wine because it's real hard to get a group together to come for the other stuff," he said. "I'm a wine drinker, not a collector. I'll get back home and drink the wine with friends."
|Commander in Chief star Geena Davis cheers as bidding rises on the Frank Family Vineyard lot featuring dinner with her.|
After the last hammer fell at 9:04 p.m., chefs Mary Cech, author of the Wine Lover's Cookbook, Traci Des Jardins of San Francisco restaurant Jardiniere, John Folse of Chef John Folse & Company in Louisiana and Suzanne Tracht of Jar Restaurant in Los Angeles presented a buffet dinner. Vintners and guests danced until after midnight, enjoying the cool night air.
Though the live auction on Saturday was the weekend's big event, festivities began on Thursday evening, with vintners hosting dinners for auction attendees. Gene and Harriet Becker, from Great Neck, N.Y., were part of a group dining with John Kongsgaard, owner and winemaker of Kongsgaard Wine, and his wife, Maggie. "It was incredible. It was as if we were old friends they'd invited to their home, and they didn't know what to do so they kept opening up wines," said Gene. "They poured at least 20 wines. It was really extraordinary."
That kind of generosity is par for the course at the vintner dinners. On Friday evening, Naoko Dalla Valle welcomed 12 guests to her home in the hills above Oakville to a dinner prepared by Traci Des Jardins, pouring rarities such as the 1994 and 1995 Dalla Valle Cabernet Sauvignon and the 1992 and 1997 Maya. "I prefer wines with some bottle age," she explained.
Much younger selections were on offer Friday morning at Trinchero Family Estates in St. Helena, where more than 3,000 attendees sampled 106 wines offered in the barrel auction. The barrel samples, presented in the cool expanse of the vast Trinchero facility, were mostly Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet blends from the 2004 vintage. Viader Vineyards, located on Howell Mountain, was one of the few producers to select a 2005 Cabernet Sauvignon. "I always like to be ahead of the curve," said estate owner Delia Viader. "I think the 2005 will bring a big surprise because it's more forward and really has more weight and intensity."
The barrel auction raised $816,000 this year, with the top bid of $37,750 going for 10 cases worth of Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon 2004.
Outside the Trinchero building, dozens of Napa producers poured their current bottlings alongside offerings from area food purveyors. White wines, such as the Schramsberg Blanc de Blancs 2000 and the Honig Sauvignon Blanc Napa Valley 2005, were ideal on the hot day, as was refreshing fare like the cold soup of peas, fava beans and broccoli made by Julia's Kitchen at Copia.
|More than 900 people turned out for the live auction, where guests bid on luxury packages to raise funds for local nonprofits.|
One of the current beneficiaries is the Big Brothers Big Sisters Youth For Youth Program, which received $61,000 in 2005. "The money allowed us to expand the program, in which high school students are recruited and trained to work with elementary-school students to mentor them and help with academic, social and emotional issues," explained Marie Regan Szalocky of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
Auction cochair Dennis Cakebread, from Cakebread Winery in Rutherford, felt that this year's participating vintners and bidders could celebrate a job well done. "This was awesome. So many generous people make this happen," he said. "There are 29 steering-committee chairs, 800 volunteers and 320 generous vintners who made donations. And all the incredibly generous bidders. How can you not walk out feeling better about humanity?"
Top Five Live-Auction Lots
1. Staglin Family Vineyard--$1,050,000
Five large-format bottles of a 2006 Meritage blend produced from the Staglin Rutherford estate and properties farmed by Staglin vineyard manager David Abreu; an 8-day tour with Garen and Shari Staglin and winemaker Luc Morlet in Paris, Champagne and Bordeaux, including visits and tastings at Châteaus Cheval-Blanc, Margaux, Mouton-Rothschild, Yquem and Valandraud; dinner with enologist Michel Rolland; and dinner at Restaurant Daniel in New York.
2. Screaming Eagle--$460,000
A complete vertical of 12 magnums, from the debut 1992 vintage through 2004.
3. Colgin Cellars--$380,000
Four 3-liter bottles of Colgin Cabernet Sauvignon Tychson Hill Vineyard St. Helena from 2000 through 2003 and dinner with Ann Colgin and her husband, Joe Wender, at the Tychson Hill estate.
4. Harlan Estate--$340,000
Ten magnums of Harlan Estate from the 1993 vintage through 2002 and dinner for 8 at the property.
5. Frank Family Vineyard--$305,000
A walk-on role in a TV movie based on the ABC TV series Commander in Chief; dinner at Grace restaurant in Los Angeles hosted by series star Geena Davis, ABC Television president Steve McPherson and winery owners Rich and Connie Frank; and 17 bottles of Frank Family wines from the 1999 vintage through 2004.
Top Five Live-Auction Bidders
1. Joy Craft, Woodside, Calif.
2. M.K. Koo, Hong Kong
3. Koerner Rombauer, St. Helena, Calif.
4. Larry Durham, Montecito, Calif.
5. Stratton Sclavos, Saratoga, Calif.
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