The bidding at Auction Napa Valley's main event on June 7 paused midway so that the more than 1,000 attendees could watch the running of the Belmont Stakes. But while the crowd's favorite, Triple Crown contender California Chrome, faded on the final stretch, the energy of the bidders did not flag. The auction was a race to the wire—only after the gavel fell on the last of 50 lots, after five hours of live bidding, did it became clear that this year's event was going to break a record for the second year in a row.
The four days of festivities earned $18.7 million for local health-care and youth organizations, topping last year's record $16.9 million. The live auction raised nearly $16.6 million, up from last year's $14.3 million.
"I've never encountered a group so generous," said Robert Van Dyk, owner of Van Dyk Family Wines and president of a health-care firm, when asked about the event sponsors, the Napa Valley Vintners. Van Dyk bid on several large lots, winning a trip to Switzerland that includes a helicopter flight over the Matterhorn and dinner for four in Zurich, for $220,000. "This is my favorite charity by far."
Since 1981, the Napa Valley Vintners have given more than $120 million to local nonprofit organizations. The 34th annual auction weekend was a four-day event, with parties, vintner-hosted dinners, a barrel auction hosted at the newly renovated Charles Krug winery, and the live auction main event at Meadowood resort. During the barrel auction, attendees could bid on cases of Napa wines on a mobile phone app while they enjoyed catered food from local chefs. An online auction, open to anyone, ended Sunday and raised just under $500,000.
Vineyard 7 & 8 proprietor Wesley Steffens, whose family donated a lot that included a restored 1957 Chevy Corvette (which sold for $200,000) and bid $500,000 during the main auction's Fund-a-Need lot, expressed the responsibility that vintners feel toward giving back to their community. "It's our backyard," said Steffens. "How can you not support your backyard?"
"The stock markets are at an all-time high. Your portfolios are fine," said auctioneer Fritz Hatton as Saturday's bidding began, urging the crowd on. With so many great lots to give away, bidding moved gradually, in $10,000 increments.
For those looking for fantasy and adventure auction lots, there were plenty to bid on. Even though this year's theme was "Sweet Home Napa Valley," lots promising trips outside of California were some of the largest earners, particularly trips to other wine regions like Bordeaux, Australia and New Zealand. Araujo Estate's new owners, the wine group of French billionaire François Pinault, offered a trip to Bordeaux, including tours of Château Latour (which Pinault owns) and estates in Margaux, Pessac-Léognan, St.-Emilion and Pomerol, plus a 6-liter bottle of Araujo.
There were also vacations to London, Rome, Jerusalem, Hong Kong, Germany, Switzerland, Tuscany, Bora Bora and a tour of Burgundy with Margrit Mondavi, widow of Robert Mondavi.
Auction lots offering tickets to attend exclusive events like the Kentucky Derby, the Masters Golf Tournament, Cannes Film Festival, Formula One races and Super Bowl L went for hundreds of thousands of dollars. One of the top earners was a Raymond Vineyards lot that included tickets to the Oscars. The lot was doubled, selling for $420,000 to two separate bidders.
A total of seven lots were doubled, including a $330,000 lot from Mayacamas, the historic winery purchased last year by Charles Banks and Jay Schottenstein, that included large-format bottles of older vintages of Cabernet Sauvignon dating back to 1964. Wine was definitely a huge draw—the most expensive single lot went for $600,000, for 125 bottles of wine from the soon-to-be-released Promontory, a new brand by Bill Harlan.
But the most dramatic moment—next to the horse race—came during the last lot, the traditional Fund-a-Need, where bidders simply raise their paddles to donate money, minus the extravagant lots. Hatton begged attendees to be generous. As paddles went up, new Napa vintner Kieu Hoang—a pharmaceuticals executive who just days ago announced that he was purchasing Michael Mondavi Family Winery's Carneros interests—took the stage and microphone to announce he was bidding $1 million. "I like this business," said Hoang. "Why? We are not competitive." Hatton welcomed the new vintner to Napa Valley as the crowd cheered him on.
Top Live-Auction Lots
Fund-a-Need: $3.8 million
Raymond Vineyards: $840,000
A night at the Oscars, including a private jet, evening gown and Oscar after-party invite, along with four large-format bottles of wine. Winning bid was $420,000, paid by two separate bidders.
Mayacamas Vineyards: $660,000
Dinner for 12 at Mayacamas including a six-decade vertical wine tasting, and six large bottles of wine dating back to 1964. Winning bid was $330,000, paid by two separate bidders.
One case each of the first 10 vintages, and grand format bottles of the first five vintages.
Napa Valley Vintners and Lexus: $580,000
Three-day cycling adventure for two couples in the Great Smoky Mountains, four customized Pinarello bicycles, and 48 bottles of Napa Valley wine. Winning bid was $290,000, paid by two separate bidders.
Opus One: $550,000
Trip to Bordeaux, including a visit to Château Mouton-Rothschild, five large bottles of Opus One and tickets to next year's auction.
Araujo Estates Wines: $520,000
Trip to Bordeaux, including tours of Château Latour and estates in Margaux, Pessac-Léognan, St.-Emilion and Pomerol, and a 6-liter of Araujo.
Darioush and Robb Report Magazine: $440,000
Judgeship for the 2015 Robb Report Car of the Year, 2015 Culinary Masters Competition, five-night stay in Maui, and five-night stay in Bora Bora. Winning bid was $220,00, paid by two separate bidders.
Casa Piena: $420,000
Four tickets to the 2016 Super Bowl, including tickets to the NFL Commissioner's Party and two bottles of wine.
Chappellet Vineyard: $410,000
Ten-night trip for four to New Zealand, dinner for 24 in Napa Valley and four large bottles of wine.
Ten-night trip to Australia for two, including a helicopter tour of Adelaide, private winery tours and 16 bottles of wine.
Gargiulo Vineyards, Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars: $400,000
Trip to Colorado, four Fender guitars, four target rifles, four fly rods, meals by Charlie Palmer, entertainment by Grammy-winner Billy Dean and three bottles of wine.
Margrit Mondavi and Geneviève Janssens go on stage with Fritz Hatton to promote their lot.
Bidders celebrate winning lot number 1.