Earlier this year, charity wine auctions were optimistic about weathering the pandemic this fall. While the Delta variant has made their efforts more challenging, many are finding ways to raise funds for worthy causes. In Napa Valley, the Harvest Stomp wine auction hit its highest total ever, raising $2.7 million for the Napa Valley Grapegrowers (NVG) and Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation, surpassing 2019's $2.32 million.
Harvest Stomp hosted 400 guests at Round Pond Estate's Pole Barn for its 14th annual live auction on Aug. 28, with proof of vaccination or negative COVID-19 test result required. The event had mobile rapid-test vans and observed Centers for Disease Control safety protocols.
According to NVG program director Emily Hegarty, they centered most of the live auction lots around experiences rather than bottles, since people have been unable to get out during the pandemic. The auction raised $1.2 million in live bids, with "The Judgment of Napa" as the top-selling lot of the night at $350,000. The experience includes a side-by-side tasting of all five 1982 Bordeaux first-growths and five 2002 Napa icons hosted by NVG president and Opus One winemaker Michael Silacci and NVG board member and Massican winemaker Dan Petroski. The Bordeaux wines were Lafite Rothschild, Latour, Margaux, Haut-Brion, Mouton-Rothschild, while the Napa reds were Araujo Estate, Colgin, Harlan Estate, Joseph Phelps and Opus One. The winning bidders will also enjoy a VIP dinner at Best of Award of Excellence winner Press Restaurant in St. Helena, paired with 2012 Cabernets from Dalla Valle, Larkmead, Rudd and Spottswoode.
Another lot that grabbed attention was a week-long trip through Australian wine country with Silacci. The lot, which sold for $320,000, takes four guests to Hunter Valley, Mornington Peninsula, Margaret River, Adelaide and Coonawarra to taste and discuss the local Sémillon, Pinot Noir and Cabernet wines.
All the money raised goes toward the NVG's mission to preserve and promote Napa Valley's vineyards and to the Napa Valley Farmworker Foundation, which provides education and professional development to farmworkers and their families. As the auction wrapped, guests set their paddles aside and made their way to the dance floor to music by Notorious the Band. "It's a great opportunity for everyone to truly let loose and enjoy outstanding Napa Valley wine at the kick off to harvest," said Hegarty about the event. "There’s a certain excitement and energy this time of year in Napa Valley, and it’s always felt at Harvest Stomp."
Auction of Washington Wines Raises $2.2 Million
Farther north, Auction of Washington Wines (AWW) also saw big gains. The Seattle-based charity event's first-ever hybrid live auction was held Aug. 14 at Chateau Ste. Michelle, with 240 guests in attendance and 135 guests tuning in from mini-galas at off-site locations. Additionally, 700 participants joined online via a YouTube live stream to watch hosts and auctioneers David Silverman and Fred Northup Jr. pump up the crowd.
The result? The auction raised $2.2 million for Seattle Children's Hospital, Washington State University's viticulture and enology program and the AWW Industry Grant program. The total is a $400,000 increase from last year's virtual event.
"There certainly is nothing like the energy and competitive bidding of a live and in-person event, but we’ve loved the growth we’ve seen in our audience by allowing people to participate in online auctions and our gala virtually," said Jamie Peha, the event's executive director. She adds that AWW has seen 1,000 new people engage in at least one of AWW's events since the last live events in 2019. "Supporting the growth and awareness of Washington state wine is fundamental to the auction’s mission, so this growth has been a silver lining to a tough situation."
The live auction raised $525,000 in live bids. The top-selling lot was "The Other Wine Country", which sold for $52,000 and included a three-night stay in Napa Valley for two couples to enjoy luxury accommodations and VIP Cabernet tastings at Cardinale and Lokoya.
A lot featuring four 5-liter bottles of Quilceda Creek Cabernet sold for $32,000. The limited edition bottles were engraved with an image of late actor Paul Newman. Another lot included 10 3-liter bottles of Cayuse, plus a spot on winemaker Christophe Baron's wine membership lists. That sold for $20,000.
Whether guests participated online or in-person, AWW provided unique experiences, from in-home chef dinners and watch parties to a live event with plenty of Washington wines to go around. "Washington wineries have always had a 'high tide raises all boats' mentality,” Peha said, “and the last two years have been no exception."
Want to get the latest news on collectible wines and the auction market? Sign up for Wine Spectator's free Collecting e-mail newsletter and get a new top-rated wine review, collecting Q&As and more, delivered straight to your inbox every other week!