Prices at this year's Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction continued their upward spiral as merchants and restaurateurs snapped up one-of-a-kind lots from the 1998 vintage. The fourth annual event, held on Feb. 27 at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, brought in $726,000 to finance the Napa Valley Vintners Association, a marketing organization of 167 Napa wineries.
Although the NVVA is best known for its annual summer auction, which raised $5.5 million for charity last year, Premiere Napa Valley has rapidly become a huge success within the trade. The average case price for the inaugural 1997 event was $503, while this year's auction brought in a record $1,220 per case. Last year's barrel auction grossed $631,000, with an average price of $934 per case.
The day began with a tasting of the 104 auction lots. All of the wines were produced in limited quantities of five or 10 cases exclusively for the event and will not otherwise be available commercially. Most of the wines were Cabernet Sauvignon, but blends and other varietals such as Pinot Noir, Petite Sirah, Sangiovese and Chardonnay rounded out the selection.
The afternoon kicked off with live bidding conducted by Fritz Hatton of Christie's and Ursula Hermacinski of Winebid.com. The high bid of the day was $31,000 for five cases of Cabernet Sauvignon from Dalla Valle Vineyards in Oakville. "It was probably the best wine we tasted here," said buyer Terry Hudson, owner of The WineSellar & Brasserie in San Diego. "I've followed Dalla Valle since 1992 and thought it was spectacular, but we didn't chase after it then like we do now."
Shafer Vineyards' five-case bottling of Sunspot Vineyard, one of the primary sources of its renowned Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon, brought in $23,500, the day's second-highest bid. "I'll sell this to some of my international clientele who are looking for boutique California Cabs," said Eddie Gelsman, owner of the Wine Library in Petaluma, Calif.
Read about the NVVA's 1999 auctions: