The 2012 Napa Valley Wine Auction
Every year the latest vintages of Napa Valley wine are celebrated around the world for bold flavors, propensity for long-term value appreciation and the stories of how the product is made and those who make it.
Starting May 31st, the annual Napa Valley Wine Auction will gather enthusiasts from near and far to the area during one of the biggest events of the season amid the pristine views and passionate epicureans.
Even as budgets shrink in these difficult and uncertain times, the sales and statistics show that Americans are drinking more and more wine with each passing year. “Wine is a big part of the American dining experience,” says Terry Hall, Communications Director for the hosting non-profit organization, Napa Valley Vintners. “More and more Americans have bottles of wine as an inseparable part of the dinner table.”
We are seeing a dramatic and evolutionary era in Napa Valley winemaking and wine culture. Vintners are experimenting with new varietals in the fields and playing with different flavors in the labs, creating unique wines that are exciting connoisseurs new and old. Younger people are also starting to get interested in what Napa wine culture has to offer, assuring decades of reliable interest and consumption.
Throughout the years the Napa Valley Wine Auction has served many functions, drawing in attendees of all makes and interests. While raising money for charity and having a grand time for everyone, forecasting the flavors of the local wines is also one of the pinnacle goals of the event.
In order to properly advertise and celebrate the ever expanding net of what winemakers and drinkers love about the region, the auction has grown steadily in scope to become one of the most important events on the calendar throughout the Valley. “We are America’s largest wine auction,” says Hall. “It’s a showcase for the best of Napa wine and just reinforces what Napa does better than anywhere else in the country.”
Recent focus of the auction and its organizers has been to highlight the locality of Napa wine, pointing out the relatively short distance from grapevine to dinner table. “Wine drives the bus in Napa,” says Hall. “The auction helps to ensure that people are buying and drinking Napa Valley wine.”
There will be over one hundred wineries and winemakers participating in this year’s auction. Many will be offering rare and prestigious bottles of wine at the auction, but there will also be opportunities to taste and meet with the men and women who devote so much time to their craft. “That’s one of the best things about coming to the auction in person, attendees get to spend time with winemakers and vintners in an intimate setting,” says Hall. “Being there is a really special experience that you can’t capture with the normal wine-buying experience.”
There will surely be great food available to savor and share as well. On Saturday at Meadowood Resort, meals will be prepared by two of the best chefs in the area, Chef Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustards Grill and Chef Michael Chiarello of Bottega. Before and after the live auction and other events through the day, these and other Napa Valley chefs will be mixing with attendees, offering memories and advice.
Last year’s event was one of the most successful in its three decades of operation, doling out copious amounts of the finest wines Napa Valley had to offer and featured lots with tickets to television show tapings and trips to several of the world’s most elite cities. “The auction has been really successful throughout its history,” says Hall. “I couldn’t imagine what Napa County would be without the auction.”
Looking over the list of lots and items available to bid on at this year’s wine auction, many are promised days of adventure on the San Francisco Bay, private tours and meeting with some of Northern California’s most influential craftsmen and women, many nights of fine drinkables, and even a few smart investments.
2012’s auction has lots along similar lines, including dinner cooked by and shared with some of the area’s best chefs (Michael Chiarello of Bottega, Ken Frank of La Toque, Michael Tusk of Quince, Greg Cole of Cole’s Steakhouse, among many others). The highest bidder may also get seats to San Francisco Giants games, tickets to the finale taping of Dancing with the Stars, or accommodations to New York City, Beijing, Paris, Florence or Maui.
Cinephiles can win a chance to see their favorite stars basking in notoriety at the Cannes Film Festival. Car enthusiasts can buy a chance to see antiques from throughout history, or take a few laps around Infineon Raceway in a classic sports car. Of course, there are thousands of gallons of great wine, along with exclusive tours and tastings, available for any connoisseur’s budget.
Opus One offers magnum bottles from the winery’s impressive library of world-class wines (along with eight nights in China).
Harlan Estates offers a rare 10-magnum-bottle-library-display collection of the ten most recent Bordeaux-style blend releases from the highly regarded winery (vintages 1998 through 2007).
Stag’s Leap Wine Cellars only puts the best grapes into their vintage of the limited release of CASK 23 (featuring only 24 bottlings since 1974). This year, collectors can add 9-liter bottles of the winery’s flagship cabernet sauvignon from each of the vintages from the decade of the 1990s. Winning bidders also score tickets to a Club Suite for a Giants home game this season.
Keen lovers of wine traditionally view auctions as a chance to get in first on future releases from the best wineries. “For locals, the barrel auction is a way to get a hold of a lot of wine at a great price,” says Hall. The biggest asset to the barrel auction is that it allows bidders to purchase cases of small lot releases of recent and future vintages from Napa’s best wineries (from Artessa to Clos Pegase, Etude to Hess Collection, Peju to Silverado, and Trinchero to ZD).
Apart from the Napa wine experience, the truest and purest effects of the event go deeper than fun and drinks for those who can afford it, however. “We have given over $100 million to the Napa community in our 30 years,” says Hall. “The largest part of that has come from the last 15 years. It’s pretty incredible what has been accomplished.”
All around Napa County, residents can see where the money raised from the auction goes every time they visit a doctor’s office, help a deserving family move into an affordable home, or drive a developmentally disabled sibling to his or her day program where they learn to read and manage their finances. “Napa County has some of the best social services around,” says Hall. “The Napa Valley Vintners are delighted with what we can do, and have done, for the community.”
Winning bidders from the Valley can also be confident that their money will be spent on the people and facilities they care about and can be seen every day. “Every penny stays in the community,” says Hall. “I think the county would be sad if we didn’t hold the auction every year, a lot of good gets done.”
Tough times can fall upon anyone for any number of reasons, but with the support of proceeds raised during the auction have saved countless Napa residents in their direst moments and emergencies. “The next time you have a heart attack, the auction was responsible for your care at the hospital,” adds Hall. “The money goes to help the uninsured to get access to health care. In a recession, health care will most likely go from family budgets as they try to pay for their homes and send their children to school.”
It is an ideologically advantageous notion that, as attendees bid on all the rare and luxurious items available at the Napa Valley Wine Auction, they are simultaneously helping both the people who create the wine that has put the area into the consciousness of the world and those in need of the extra care and compassion that philanthropy is rooted in.
Napans helping Napans while enjoying a good time and extraordinary wine, the Napa Valley Wine Auction is one of those special situations when a person can feel good about himself and feel good about other people as well.
Tickets for the event go on sale March 31, 2012 at 8 a.m. when those interested view all the auction details on www.napavintners.com/anv. Packages range from $350 to $2500 per person and will include various options in addition to the right to bid in person on all the exclusive offerings. Residents and visitors should also look at the websites for their favorite wineries as many are hosting independent events during the weekend.
James Hritz grew up in the Wine Country, but has written for various publications across the country. He is happy to be writing and working in his home again.