The 2002 Napa Valley Cabernets may lack the buzz of the 2001s, but that didn't stop bidders from snapping up the wines at Saturday's annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction, raising a record $987,200 along the way.
While the overall take surpassed last year's record by about $50,000, the number of auction lots was also a record. As a result the per-case average was $927, the lowest since the 1998 auction. The event, which is in its eighth year, is not a charity fundraiser like the annual Napa Valley Wine Auction, and is open only to members of the wine trade, including retailers, restaurateurs and distributors.
Saturday's highest bid was $35,000 for a 20-case lot of Silver Oak Cabernet Sauvignon 2002, described as some of the best components from the winery's highly prized Napa Cabernet. It was purchased by a bidder who declined to be identified.
The second place lot actually surpassed the top bid when it came to price per case. Five cases of Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Hillside Select Sunspot Vineyard 2002 sold for $28,000 or $5,600 a case.
A total of 158 lots were sold in all at the Feb. 21 event, and each was blended especially for the auction. The wines, which were sold in lots ranging from five to 20 cases, are still aging and won't be considered finished for months or even years.
"These are sort of the race cars of wines. It's like Ford, they make Taurus but it's nothing like their Formula One cars," said Jack Bittner, director of sales and marketing for Silverado Vineyards.
That's part of the appeal for Jay James, the director of wine at the Bellagio resort in Las Vegas, who is a perennial top bidder at the auction. "I'm looking for blockbuster wines because big powerhouse wines get people's attention."
The day's top bidder, who spent $203,900 on 20 lots, was Gary Fisch, who owns two Gary's Wine & Marketplace stores in New Jersey. Fisch, who purchased the Shafer lot, said it's the uniqueness of the lots that holds much of the attraction. "The lots we get are very expressive of what the winemaker wants to do but can't do in huge numbers."
James agreed. "I'm always looking for totally unique wines, so I can truly say this wine is only available at the Bellagio."
There were more than 500 members of the trade on hand at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA) at Greystone in St. Helena. Before the auction, bidders had a chance to sample the wines in a walk-around tasting. Most estates poured Cabernet Sauvignon or Bordeaux-style blends, but there were a handful of other varieties, including a Tempranillo from Viader and a Petite Verdot from Reverie.
Proceeds from the auction will support a number of Napa Valley Vintners Association programs. About $100,000 of the 2004 proceeds will go to benefit the Rudd Center for Professional Wine Studies at the CIA Greystone.
Top Lots at Premiere 2004
Silver Oak Cellars: $35,000
Shafer Vineyards: $28,000
Joseph Phelps Vineyards: $26,000
Pride Mountain Vineyards: $26,000
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars: $21,000
Viader Vineyards & Winery: $18,000
Vineyard 29: $17,000
Beringer Vineyards: $14,500
Duckhorn Vineyards: $14,000
Lewis Cellars: $14,000
Staglin Family Vineyard: $14,000
Photo by Jason Tinacci