Two California cult wines alone brought in an astonishing $1.2 million at the 20th annual Napa Valley Wine Auction,boosting the charity fund-raiser's intake this year to a record $9.5 million -- nearly double that of last year's event.
A 10-vintage vertical of Harlan Estate Cabernet magnums from 1987 through 1996 sold for a jaw-dropping $700,000, while another bidder paid $500,000 for a single large-format bottle of Screaming Eagle Cabernet Sauvignon 1992, one of only two existing 6-liter bottles of the tiny winery's first vintage.
"Going into it there was this sense of elation about the economy, as well as the quality of wines being made in Napa," said Christie's auctioneer Fritz Hatton, who conducted much of the bidding. "There's also a pride and elation about the lifestyle in Napa -- the art, the wine, the food."
The other top lot, which also brought in $500,000, was a special event put together by the Napa Valley Vintners Association, the trade organization that sponsors the auction. Among the many contributions to the "Inside Out" package were dinner at Grace Family Vineyards, lunch with Wine Spectator editor James Laube, dinner at Francis Ford Coppola's home, cooking lessons at The French Laundry with chef Thomas Keller and an aerial tour of the valley with pilot Tom Shelton of Joseph Phelps Vineyards.
The bidding heated up early in this year's 166-lot auction, with lot 10 -- a 10-year vertical of Araujo Cabernet Sauvignon Eisele Vineyard in magnums -- going from a starting price of $5,000 to a final total of $270,000 in only a few minutes. The rapid pace prompted Hatton to quip, "This is aerobic exercise," as he tried to keep up with the frenetically bobbing paddles.
The winning bidder on the Araujo was Chase Bailey, a cofounder of the tech-stock darling Cisco Systems. Bailey is one of several former or current Silicon Valley executives who drove the high prices and fast pace at the auction this year. He and his wife, Susan, were also the ones who took home the Screaming Eagle and "Inside Out" lots for a half-million each.
"My wife and I really love California wines," said Bailey, who is now retired from Cisco. "We've got a large cellar in Lake Tahoe that we're trying to fill with the best wines possible. I started out with a 100-bottle cellar about 15 years ago, and have worked my way up to 2,500 bottles, which I think is the perfect size."
The competition between Bailey and longtime top auction bidders Ron and Teri Kuhn for the Screaming Eagle brought the audience to its feet as the numbers topped all expectations for a single bottle of wine. "I'm just so overwhelmed and honored," said Screaming Eagle owner Jean Phillips. "It's extraordinary."
Much of the audience expected the Screaming Eagle to be the top lot of the auction, until the Harlan Estate came up as the day's third-to-last lot. The crowd applauded as the price skyrocketed past the half-million mark, coming down to a final contest between two bidders. Finally, B.A. "Red" Adams and his wife, Yvonne -- who are owners of a Louisiana company that rents oil-well drilling equipment and also longtime big bidders at the auction -- topped out at $700,000. "We like to buy the wines from the friends we have in the wine industry," said Yvonne. "But the main thing is giving to charity."
Other top lots included an eight-vintage vertical of Dalla Valle Cabernet magnums, plus lunch prepared by Thomas Keller of The French Laundry at the home of Naoko Dalla Valle, along with a tasting with winemaker Mia Klein. Dee Lincoln -- who has been coming to the auction for four years to pick up wines for her Del Frisco's Double Eagle steakhouses in Dallas, Denver, Fort Worth and Manhattan -- won the heated round of bidding for $270,000.
Internet enterpreneur Chuck McMinn, who recently bought Vineyard 29, picked up 20 bottles of Pine Ridge Cabernet Sauvignon and a piece of glasswork by artist Dale Chihuly, donated by Auction 2000 chair and Pine Ridge cofounder Nancy Andrus. His winning bid was for $230,000.
Colgin Cellars' 6-liter bottle of its Herb Lamb Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon went for $220,000. Montagia Howell Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, a unique collaboration between legendary San Francisco 49ers quarterback Joe Montana and Beringer winemaker Ed Sbragia, sold for $210,000 for a lot consisting of a case and a 9-liter bottle.
The final auction total also included money raised from an art auction, a silent auction of private donor lots and lots for beginning collectors, and a barrel auction of 66 wineries' yet-to-be-bottled 1997, 1998 and 1999 vintages. The top three single-case lots were Dalla Valle Maya Cabernet Sauvignon 1999, which sold for $33,000, Staglin Cabernet Sauvignon 1997, for $20,000; and Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet Sauvignon 1998, for $6,400.
The funds raised at the auction will go to support projects such as local boys' and girls' clubs and improved health-care services for Napa County's poor and underinsured.