Here's a bake sale for the record books.
Premiere Napa Valley, the annual fundraiser for the Napa Valley Vintners, rang up $1.87 million at its rare wine auction on Saturday.
Before the bidding began, this year's event co-chairman, John Skupny of Lang & Reed Wine Co., described Premiere as the vintners' equivalent of an "annual school bake sale."
That remark sure didn't have anything to do with the dollar amounts spent by the bidders. This year's sale, held at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, Calif., proved that plenty of people still have lots of money to spend on rare wines.
One example: V.J. Jazirvar, from the Oklahoma Petroleum Club, made the day's top bid, with an $85,000 purchase of a 2004 Cabernet.
Each of the 181 lots is made exclusively for Premiere. Usually, these are unique cuvées—not typically made by the winery—produced in five-, 10- and 20-case lots. Most of the wines auctioned are still resting in barrel and will see limited commercial distribution over the next few years. The $1.87 million total set a new record for this event, now in its 10th year, and topped the 2005 take by 28 percent, officials said.
One reason for this year's success may be the main vintage being offered. Most of the wines are from 2004, which is an outstanding year for reds in Napa Valley. It should yield many more stellar wines than 2003, a mixed year, and bidders are in effect hedging their bets, buying wines now in anticipation that prices won't be dropping anytime soon.
Of the 30 wines I tasted, I was impressed by the richness, balance, depth and absence of some of the extremes evident in recent vintages—namely, superripe, jammy, racy styles.
The buyers are mostly retailers, restaurateurs and wholesalers, and many of the wines will eventually end up on retail shelves or restaurant wine lists as something unique for higher-end customers. More than 600 mostly purple-tongued wine lovers sampled the infant wines, and by noon, the event had become a shoulder-to-shoulder affair. At one point I bumped into one of the big spenders, John York, owner of the San Francisco 49ers.
At the same time, the bidders, who sample the wines at a tasting before the auction, get to both preview upcoming vintages and show their support for Napa's wine industry. The auction proceeds fund the 270-plus-member association's programs, including fighting court cases to protect Napa's name, providing scholarships for wine educators and creating a permanent home for the Napa Valley Vintners.
The high bid, for the second year in a row, went to a Cabernet Sauvignon from Rombauer Vineyard. The five-case lot from the 2004 vintage earned a bid of $85,000 from the Petroleum Club in Oklahoma City. The runner up, a five-case lot of Shafer Vineyards 2004 Cabernet from the winery's Sunspot Vineyard, sold for $75,000 to a Tokyo wine buyer.
Also drawing high bids were Silver Oak's 20 cases of 2005 Barron Duncan Cabernet (a special lot made by winemaker Daniel Barron and the Duncan family, Silver Oak's owner), Paraduxx's 20-case lot of a 2004 Zinfandel-Cabernet blend and Beringer Vineyards's 20-case lot of 2004 Cabernet made from mountain vineyards on both sides of Napa Valley.
Premiere continues to be a launch pad for new brands and, remarkably, the mix of wines is diverse. While Cabernet and Cabernet blends, Napa's best red wines, dominated the lineup again this year, with 127 wines, there were 12 Merlots, seven Cabernet Francs, six Pinot Noirs, five Syrahs, four Zinfandels, three Malbecs and one Aglianico.
One fascinating aspect of Premiere—and of Auction Napa Valley—is that it continues to improve and improvise, making adjustments to the market and keeping the venue refreshingly friendly.
It's the kind of bake sale any wine lover would cherish.
|1.||ROMBAUER Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Blend 2004||$85,000 / 5 cases|
|2.||SHAFER Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District Sunspot Vineyard 2004||$75,000 / 5 cases|
|3.||SILVER OAK Cabernet Sauvignon Barron Duncan's Blend 2005||$39,000 / 20 cases|
|4.||PARADUXX Zinfandel-Cabernet Sauvginon Rector Creek Vineyard Proprietary Blend 2004||$37,000 / 10 cases|
|5.||BERINGER Cabernet Sauvignon Ridge to Ridge 2004||$35,000 / 20 cases|
|6.||LEWIS Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2004||$32,000 / 5 cases|
|7.||JOSEPH PHELPS Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2004||$29,000 / 10 cases|
|8.||HUSIC Cabernet Sauvignon Stags Leap District 2004||$28,000 / 5 cases|
|9.||GEMSTONE Proprietary Blend 2003||$27,000 / 5 cases|
|10.||REGUSCI Cabernet Sauvignon-Merlot-Cabernet Franc Stags Leap District 2004||$27,000 / 10 cases|
|11.||PRIDE MOUNTAIN Cabernet Sauvignon Summit Ranch 2004||$26,000 / 5 cases|
|12.||STAG'S LEAP WINE CELLARS Cabernet Sauvignon The First Kiss-Fay Block 8 2004||$25,000 / 10 cases|
|13.||DARIOUSH Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley 2004||$22,000 / 10 cases|
|14.||LANG & REED Red Ten x Ten 2004||$22,000 / 20 cases|
|15.||SAINTSBURY Pinot Noir Carneros Brown Ranch Pommard Clone 2005||$22,000 / 20 cases|
1. Gary's Wine & Marketplace, Madison, N.J.
2. Nakagawa Wine Co., Tokyo
3. Capitol Cellars, Roseville, Calif.
4. Bounty Hunter, Napa, Calif.
5. Petroleum Club, Oklahoma City
6. Hi-Time Cellars, Costa Mesa, Calif.
7. FQ Club, Reno, Nev.
8. Zachys, Scarsdale, N.Y.
9. Willow Park Wine & Spirits, Calgary, Alberta
10. The Grapevine, San Jose, Calif.
Cabernet Franc: 7
Cabernet Sauvignon: 129
Nero d'Avola: 1
Petite Sirah: 2
Petit Verdot: 3
Pinot Noir: 6
Proprietary Red Blends: 6
White or Sparkling: 2
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