After several hours of fevered bidding at Auction Napa Valley’s main event on June 3, the action paused for a message from Francis Ford Coppola. The Academy Award winner and vintner was less than a hundred yards away, stirring a steaming pot of pomodoro basilico in the outdoor kitchen at the Meadowood resort. Speaking via live feed, he told the more than 900 auction guests, “I’m making a home-cooked dinner.” That was just the motivation the crowd of wine lovers needed to raise their paddles with renewed vigor, hungry for the feast ahead.
The dinner prepared by the director of the Godfather trilogy and owner of Inglenook winery was just one of the many highlights at the historic charity wine auction. Held by the Napa Valley Vintners, the live auction was the culmination of a weekend packed with fund-raising events that garnered $15.7 million for Napa County non-profits focused on community health and childhood education.
Since its inception in 1981, Auction Napa Valley has given over $170 million to charities. The event surpassed last year’s total of $14.3 million, although it didn’t reach 2014’s record of $18.7 million. With a live-auction total of almost $11.6 million, the event is second only to the Naples Winter Wine Festival among top American charity wine auctions this year.
This year’s honorary auction chair was the Coppola family, who brought a dose of Hollywood glitz and glamour to the auction weekend. Francis and his wife, Eleanor, their children Roman and Sofia and niece Gia Coppola each took on different roles for the weekend. Francis, who had started cooking Saturday morning with the help of some of the top bidders from last year’s auction, starred as the event’s celebrity chef.
“It’s a pretty unique idea that each [member of the family] would lend an eye,” said Roman, who won an Emmy award for his television series Mozart in the Jungle. “We all had different areas that we could contribute.”
Roman directed the live auction at Meadowood, where guests first gathered on the lawn Saturday to preview the auction lots under an open-air tent. The inspiration was a garden-party green room. The booths were designed in the style of a country fair, and included a London phone booth as well as a restored 1971 Mercedes-Benz that was part of a lot donated by Vineyard 7 & 8.
The mood was lively inside the auction tent as wine lovers bid eagerly on the first lot: three nights at Inglenook’s Niebaum Mansion, travel on the Coppola family’s private jet and a four-night stay at their hotel Palazzo Margherita in Italy. With the Coppola family looking on, the lot quickly pulled in $460,000, setting the tone for the evening.
Fantasy wine experiences were the biggest draws, with a three-way bidding war breaking out over a lot from Colgin Cellars, which included dinner for two couples at the winery and a trip to Paris and Champagne with meals at 3-star Michelin restaurants. The crowd was on its feet cheering the bidders on as they upped their bids. In the end, the lot was first doubled and then tripled, selling for $700,000 each, taking in a combined $2.1 million, the top fund-raising lot of the day. The Antica Napa Valley Antinori Family Wine Estate/Staglin Family Vineyard joint lot, featuring 10 large-format bottles of wine from the two vintners along with a luxurious, guided trip to Tuscany, was also tripled, bringing in a combined $1.5 million.
Bidders Steven and Claire Stull of Napa paid $200,000 for a lot sponsored by St. Supery that included Chanel jewelry and a six-night stay in Bordeaux, with tours of four châteaus, including Rauzan-Ségla. “We are happy to support the Napa Valley charities; this is our community,” said Steven. “Rauzan-Ségla was one of the first places I went to on my trip to Bordeaux,” added Claire. “I’m really happy to be going back.”
Celebrating its 37th year, the annual auction weekend was a four-day affair featuring winemaker dinners, open houses and vintner-hosted events. The live auction was the highlight, but wine lovers could also bid on hundreds of lots in an online auction and at the Napa Valley Barrel Auction.
The festivities kicked off Thursday evening with welcome parties at wineries throughout the valley. The following day a crowd of 2,000 flocked to Inglenook winery for the barrel auction. Under a cloudless sky, guests wandered the grounds, snacking on bites from six local restaurants paired with wines grouped by variety.
Inside Inglenook’s wine cave, 108 wineries poured samples of yet-to-be-released barrel offerings. Remote bidding was introduced for the first time this year, with wine lovers able to bid using smartphone apps. The top 10 bidders on each lot received a case of wine, with The Mascot the top seller, pulling in $73,550.
Fund-raising wasn’t the only agenda for the Napa Valley Vintners, which has implemented a variety of sustainability measures at the barrel auctions, with the eventual goal of diverting 100 percent of the waste from going to landfills.
“We’ve enjoyed the whole prospect of participating in the valley, because it helps those in need,” said Eleanor Coppola, the host of the barrel auction. Eleanor, who recently released Paris Can Wait, told Wine Spectator that the family took the responsibility of chairing the event very seriously. “We wanted to be hands-on honorary chairs.”
That was evident in the tent on Saturday night during the live auction’s annual Fund-a-Need lot, where bidders were encouraged to raise their paddles in amounts of $1,000 to $250,000 to support early-intervention programs for children. Roman Coppola met with some of the beneficiaries of the auction to produce a short video for the lot. “I was genuinely moved and found these kids were bright and ambitious,” he said.
One of the most active bidders at the auction was Paul DeBruce, chief executive and chairman of the DeBruce Companies, who was attending his third auction with his wife, Linda, and eight friends. “We just enjoy it tremendously and have made a number of friends there,” said DeBruce, who placed the winning bid on four separate lots, including a trip to London with tickets to Wimbledon, donated by Darioush. “We try to support the communities where we spend time.”
“The money we raise is giving back to our community 365 days of the year,” said Michael Honig, chair of the Napa Valley Vintners board of directors and president of Honig. “That’s something that we should be really proud of.”
Masterful Visions in the World of Wine: $2.1 million
Donated by Colgin Cellars. Included a trip for two couples to Napa and dinner with the Colgins, combined with a trip to Paris and Reims, including dinners and a private tour and tasting at Krug. The lot was doubled and then tripled, with each selling for $700,000.
Magnifica Italia: $1.5 million
Donated by Antica Napa Valley – Antinori Family Wine Estate and Staglin Family Vineyards. Trip for two couples to Tuscany and visits to wineries such as Antinori nel Chianti Classico, Biondi-Santi, and Tenuta di Biserno, plus dinners, tours and accommodations. The lot was tripled, with each selling for $500,000.
Japan: Awe and Enchantment: $720,000
Donated by Dalla Valle Vineyards. A week-long trip for two to Japan including dinners with Naoko and Maya Dalla Valle, and a tasting at Kusumi Sake Brewery, plus an imperial of wine. Highest single lot of the day.
From Howell Mountain to the Andean Mountains: $520,000
Donated by Viader Vineyards and Winery. Four-night stay in St. Helena for four, including blending sessions at Viader, combined with a guided trip to Argentina. The lot was doubled, with each selling for $260,000.
Chairs’ Lot: $460,000
Donated by Inglenook. A retreat for three couples to Inglenook’s Niebaum Mansion combined with a trip to southern Italy to stay at the hotel Palazzo Margherita. Includes VIP dinners, cooking classes and 126 bottles of wine.
The Ultimate Screaming Eagle: $440,000
Donated by Screaming Eagle. A rare Balthazar (12-liter bottle) of Screaming Eagle 2014. The winery only produces one Balthazar each year. Includes a position on the winery’s mailing list.
Balmy Breezes, Blue Lagoons, Beachfront Bliss: A French Polynesian Idyll: $400,000
Donated by Raymond Vineyards. A trip for two couples to Tahiti and Bora Bora, combined with a stay in Napa and a multicourse dinner for 12 to 14 guests cooked by chefs Charlie Palmer and Victor Scargle.
Fifty Years on Pritchard Hill: $340,000
Donated by Chappellet Vineyard. Includes a 50-year retrospective tasting for 10 of Chappellet’s Cabernet Sauvignons, dinner with chef Christopher Kostow at the Napa Valley Reserve and dinner with chef Timothy Hollingsworth, as well as a two-night stay at Las Alcobas.