The live auction at Saturday’s Auction Napa Valley was like a baseball game that didn’t get interesting until after the seventh inning stretch. Perhaps edgy over last week’s Wall Street woes, bidders seemed cautious throughout much of the day but were generous in the end, raising $6.1 million. That was slightly higher than last year’s $5.8 million, and by the end of the four days of events the Napa Vintners had raised more than $8 million, the bulk of which will be donated to local charities.
More than 800 paddle holders gathered under the big tent at St. Helena's Meadowood Resort for the live auction. A warm and sunny afternoon, it was a return to high fashion after waders became more practical than high heels on last year’s storm-drenched lawn.
The entire menu for the day was classic American, with Thomas Keller’s Ad Hoc restaurant serving picnic-style fried chicken and corn bread earlier in the day. And at one point during the auction, a man wearing a backward baseball cap and carrying two trays of cheeseburgers appeared on the stage. It was Joel Gott, who owns the popular Gott’s Roadhouse in St. Helena. “We have 700 cheeseburgers on the way for everyone in the room,” Gott announced.
The 32nd annual auction weekend began Thursday night with a series of private parties at valley wineries, including Castello di Amorosa, Kenzo and Flora Springs. At Friday’s Barrel Auction and Marketplace in the dramatic caves of Jarvis Winery, about 2,000 guests noshed on the creations of valley restaurants such as Auberge du Soleil and Morimoto Napa. The top barrel lot was for 10 cases of Melka Cabernet Sauvignon St. Helena Jumping Goat 2010 that sold for $101,285.
But the big action came Saturday: Barbara Banke, owner of Sonoma County-based Jackson Family Wines, came across the mountain and bought the single-priciest lot of the day for $460,000. That lot included a private concert in Napa Valley for 28 people with Grammy-winning country band Lady Antebellum, as well as a two-night trip to London and 3-liter bottles of 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon from wineries such as Shafer, Chateau Montelena, Silver Oak and Raymond.
Banke, whose company owns Kendall-Jackson, as well as Napa wineries Atalon, Lokoya and Cardinale, said she bought the lot because Lady Antebellum was Kendall-Jackson president Rick Tigner’s favorite band. “I love the band, too,” added an excited Kate Jackson, her daughter.
The technology sector has been a big supporter of the auction in recent years, and another of the live auction’s top bids came from Paul Jacobs, CEO of San Diego-based Qualcomm, who paid $360,000 for a lot by Chappellet Vineyard that included a 12-day African safari for four, dinner for 10 at the winery and four 3-liter bottles of Pritchard Hill Estate Cabernet. “This is a great event and the Chappellets are great people,” Jacobs said. The Chappellet lot actually brought in a total of $720,000, after the Chappellets agreed to double the lot to accommodate a dueling bidder who matched Jacob's $360,000 offer.
This year’s festivities lacked the star power of previous auctions, which saw the likes of Oprah Winfrey and Jay Leno, but there were a few noteworthy names, including former pro footballer Ronnie Lott and classical violinist Charles Yang, who performed a lively version of “Yankee Doodle Dandy.” Ed and Karen Zuckerberg, parents of Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, kept a low profile at the Blackbird Vineyards table. Reportedly they were part of the winning bid for the Colgin Cellars lot, which sold for $100,000.
One of the top overall bidders of the day was Mary Miner, owner of Oakville Ranch Vineyards, and Mitch Soekland, who said they had a budget of $800,000 to spend. They paid $220,000 for a lot that included two nights for three couples at the exclusive Mayacama Golf Club, a private dinner at the French Laundry, a restored 1960 Jaguar roadster and three 3-liter bottles of Cabernet from Morlet, Bure and Vineyard 7&8.
The annual Fund A Need, which goes to children's health and education initiatives, brought in a total of $1.2 million. Eighty-two bidders took turns raising their paddles to individually contribute anything from $120,000 to $1,000 or less.
Emeril Lagasse prepared a sunset dinner on the lawn that included salmon crudo and roasted Colorado lamb rack, and guests danced late into the evening. Still recovering from the frenzy of preparing nearly 1,000 cheeseburgers, Gott reflected on the auction and it’s impact. “Napa and even Sonoma, we all benefit from this,” said Gott, who also has his own wine label. “Here you have Thomas Keller, a world-class chef, cooking lunch, a road house stand serving burgers and Emeril Lagasse making dinner. How can you beat that?”
Top Five Live-Auction Lots
1. Chappellet: $720,000
A 12-day African safari for four, dinner for 10 at the winery and four large-format bottles. Winning bid was $360,000, paid by two separate bidders.
2. Chappellet, Chateau Montelena, Gargiulo, Raymond, Shafer and Silver Oak: $460,000
A private concert for 28 people with Lady Antebellum, two-night trip to London and six large-format bottles.
3. Antica Napa Valley and Dalla Valle: $300,000
Three-night excursion in Napa for four, 10-night trip to Tuscany for four and 16 large-format bottles.
4. Darioush: $280,000
Six-day excursion to Napa, Paris and Bordeaux for four couples and 48 large-format bottles.
5. BURE, Morlet and Vineyard 7 & 8: $220,000
Two nights for three couples at the Mayacama Golf Club, a private dinner at The French Laundry, a restored 1960 Jaguar Roadster and three large-format bottles.