Feature Coverage

Premiere Napa Valley raises $5 million

“ST. HELENA — A group of Swiss wine enthusiasts paid $130,000 for one of the three top lots at Saturday’s Premiere Napa Valley wine barrel auction. The event raised $5 million for the Napa Valley Vintners, the third-highest amount raised in the event’s 20-year history. Last year, the event raised $6 million and in 2014, it raised $5.9 million.

“The group, calling themselves Napa Wine Ltd., bought 60 bottles of 2014 Memento Mori Cabernet Sauvignon, 100 percent cabernet sauvignon made from grapes grown in Beckstoffer’s Dr. Crane Vineyard and Las Piedras Vineyard, both in St. Helena. The opening bid started at $50,000 and as the bids went past $100,000, the crowd cheered and clapped.

“Two other lots also sold for $130,000, one right after the other near the end of the auction, which contained 200 wine lots. An additional 26 wine lots were sold online. All were for delivery in a year or two as the wine remains in the wine barrels.

“Andy Fehr, one of the members of Napa Wine Ltd., sought to buy the five-case lot of Nine Suns 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon, made from grapes grown on Pritchard Hill, with a starting bid of $100,000. Auctioneer David Elswood announced the bid and said, ‘We’re going to sell it unless we get it up to $105.’ He received that bid and Fehr and another bidder fought for the lot. Fehr said he dropped out at $125,000, because ‘we had our limits.’ They bought two other lots, the five cases of 2014 Howell Mountain cabernet sauvignon from Aloft Wine, for $22,000; and a special wine blend of 2004 and 2014 cabernet sauvignon from Seavey Vineyard. The group paid $20,000 for that lot. Fehr said the barrel lots they bought were wonderful, great wines and added, ‘We will drink it, certainly.’

“The third wine lot that sold for $130,000 was again a five-case lot of 2014 cabernet sauvignon, this time from Italics Winegrowers made with grapes from Coombsville. There was heavy bidding on the lot and the price slowly crept up to $50,000. When the lot was doubled at $100,000, again the audience cheered and clapped and Elswood sold it at $105,000. Inexplicably, he reopened the bidding after selling two other wine lots and sold it for $130,000.

“At $130,000 for the five-case lot, which is 60 bottles, the wine sold for roughly $2,160 a bottle.

“During the 20 years of Premiere Napa Valley, the top lot was five cases of 2012 cabernet sauvignon from Scarecrow, which sold for $260,000. That lot was sold to Glen Knight from the Wine House in Los Angeles in 2014. It was made by winemaker Celia Welch and made from cabernet sauvignon vines planted in 1945. The wine was released last April.

“The top 10 lots of Saturday’s auction, which was held in the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, raised $860,000, and all but two were for 2014 cabernet sauvignon. Producers were Realm Cellars, Rombauer Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards, TOR Kenward Family, Duckhorn Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars and ZD Wines.

“Of the 226 lots sold, 199 were from the 2014 harvest. Emma Swain, chair of the Napa Valley Vintners’ board of directors and CEO of St. Supery Estate Vineyards & Winery, said, ‘The collectibility of Napa Valley’s rarest wines was on dramatic display today. We are grateful to our friends and colleagues in the wine trade who join us year after year, seeking out the excellence and endless possibilities of our winemaking.’

“Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards was chair of Premiere Napa Valley Steering Committee. At the end of the event, he said, ‘We’re thrilled with the results and we had a great day sharing our wines with our partners in the trade.’

“Shafer started out the afternoon at the podium and talked about the friendly competition between those who make wine in the Napa Valley. ‘Over the past 20 years, Premiere has helped Napa Valley’s vintners to really push the quality envelope. Because of this event, I believe we’re all making even better wines.’

“He also introduced two of the co-chairs of the first Premiere Napa Valley, held in 1997, Dan Duckhorn and Richard Walton. Duckhorn thanked everyone for coming and recognized David and Judy Breitstein, who bought the first PNV lot, from Duckhorn Vineyards in 1997. That year, the auction raised $412,000.

“This year, the first lot, 20 cases of 2014 merlot from Duckhorn Vineyards, sold for $60,000.

“The bidding throughout the afternoon was brisk, with auctioneer Fritz Hatton jacking up his voice and the crowd. As the bid stalled at $26,000 for a five-case lot of CADE Estate Winery, 2014 cabernet sauvignon from Howell Mountain, he asked one of the bidders to ante up. As Hatton said, ‘You’ve been here at every event, you’re not out to pasture yet,’ the man roared with laughter. The lot sold for $28,000.

“Another time, VJ Jazirvar, executive president of Oklahoma’s Petroleum Club and perennial bidder, yelled out a bid of $40,000 for the ZD Wines lot of its multi-vintage cabernet sauvignon. Hatton took the bid and responded, ‘We haven’t heard from you all day.’ The lot sold for $60,000.

“When the Davies Vineyards 10-case lot of 2014 cabernet sauvignon, made from Jamie’s Block grapes, went up for bidding, Hatton told the group to raise a glass to Jamie Davies, who with her husband, Jack, reinvigorated the winery in 1965 and turned to sparkling wines. For the following lot, a 1990 sparkling wine from J. Schram, Hatton got the bid up to $18,000, which he said was just 3 cents a bubble.

“Before the bidding began for the Volker Eisele Family Estate lot of five cases of 2014 cabernet franc from Chiles Valley, Hatton told the crowd that ‘one of the legends of Napa Valley (Volker Eisele) recently passed. We miss him, too.’ The lot sold for $8,000.

“The future lots were sold in five-, 10- or 20-case lots, although most were lots of 60 bottles. During the event, Saintsbury was recognized as being the only winery to donate 20-case lots for each of the past 20 years.

“The 1,000 wine professionals in attendance at the auction were from 32 states and seven countries. Of that group, 36 percent were retailers, 32 percent were from restaurants, hotels or private clubs, and 32 perent were wholesalers, distributors, brokers or importers.”

David Stoneberg, February 22, 2016
Premiere Napa Valley raises $5 million