(This is Part 3 of a 3-part story about this weekend’s Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Auction.)
Build it… and they will come.
That was the moxie shown by Napa Valley Vintners, the valley’s wine trade association, which represents nearly 400 wineries. For despite the lousy economic climate, they invited 500 important wine retailers, wholesalers and restaurant wine-buyers to attend their annual Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Auction, held today at the Culinary Institute of America’s campus, in St. Helena.
Buyers came from Japan, Canada, the UK, France, Austria, Germany, and, of course, America, to bid for one-of-a-kind-lots of premium Cabernet blends.
Napa Valley Vintners pulled off a stunning coup, auctioning 200 lots of wine, raising $1,917,800. Most of the wines offered were unique Cabernet blends from the as-yet unreleased 2008 vintage.
This is a 29 percent increase over last year’s $1,487,500 auction proceeds.
Funds raised at this winter auction are applied to marketing programs to promote and protect the Napa Valley Appellation.
You really have to admire the positive outlook of Napa Valley winemakers; the world is awash in wine, and many Napa Valley wines can be found at discounts at up to 50 percent in wine stores across the country… and yet … and yet… hope springs eternal in the vineyards and wineries, which dot this demi-paradise.
The group-think is that today’s increased auction proceeds (over last year’s) will send a the message to the wine industry that retail pricing may start to firm up. Thankfully, the 2008 vintage of Napa Valley Cabs is much smaller than normal, which means the soon-to-be-released wines will not flood the market.
Some wineries acknowledge that their 2008 harvest was down 35 to 45 percent from a ‘normal’ year. I can’t remember a time when winemakers were happy that they had less wine to sell. These are curious times, indeed!
At today’s auction, the three highest bid lots were:
+ $37,000 for 5 cases of 2008 Shafer Sunspot Vineyard. This works out to $616 a bottle.
+ $33,000 for 5 cases of Ovid Block 1A Cabernet, which works out to $550 a bottle.
+ $30,000 for 5 cases of Lewis Cellars Premiere Blend, which works out to $500 a bottle, which in the context of the prices above, sounds like a relative bargain!
My favorite wine event of the year
Premiere, my favorite local wine event of the year, brings together colorful winemakers, juicy young wines and powerful wine merchants. The auction room, filled with fluttering paddles and bidding buyers, is like a young Napa Valley Cab itself – unrestrained, filled with promise, and heartily enjoyed.
Bidders crowd into a top-floor salon at the CIA and watch, listen, and raise their paddles as 200 wine lots are auctioned. Participating wineries donate a unique blend of wine in quarter-barrel (five-case), half-barrel (10-case), or full-barrel (20-case) lots.
The Food’s as Good as the Wine at Premiere Napa Valley
In the morning, members of the wine trade and press got to taste the 200 unique blends, which were auctioned in the afternoon.
The barrel room at the CIA looked, and sounded, like a beehive that had just been struck with a baseball bat; there was a frenzy of noise, of buzzing, of clinking of glassware, and of high-fives.
For many winemakers and wine-buyers, today was their first reunion since Premiere last year.
At noon, a tremendous buffet was served. The fare was fabulous, perfectly prepared and presented. Hats off to the CIA for serving food that complemented the wines. Oh, and did I mention that there were a lot of them ?
This is a veritable group grape grope, as guests are permitted to reach for any of hundreds of different labels. Guests may return to the wine tables, or food tables, as many times as they like for refills, or for diverse taste trials. That anyone is awake for the afternoon auction is a testament to the professional tasting skills of the assembled guests.
I stopped counting bottles, which were opened for lunch, at 300… and some of these were $150 wines. Members of the Napa Valley Vintners group donated their wines, which serve as a transmission fluid – to make the luncheon and the afternoon run smoothly.
2008 – what a glorious vintage
Premiere Napa Valley is really the first time each year that the trade gets a peak at the next-to-be-released vintage of Napa Valley Cabernet. It’s a collective chance to assess the vintage and determine how consumers will like the wines.
Last year, napaman posed a common question to winemakers, asking them to assess the quality of the vintage as though it were a movie star. The results were so telling, so colorful and so original, that napaman decided to repeat the exercise this year.
So we asked: “If your 2008 Cabernet were a movie star, who would it be – and why?”
“2008 was our Tom Cruise vintage. It was handsome and short!”
“Our harvest in 2008 was down 30 to 40 percent from a ‘normal’ year. I’d have to say that the only Hollywood star who mirrors the vintage – short and edgy – is Danny Devito!”
“Our crop was down 20 to 25 percent in ’08, but the fruit was intense, polished and didn’t need a lot of direction from us – it just made wonderful wine. I’d have to say that for us, 2008 was the Morgan Freeman vintage – a polished performance, requiring little direction!”
“The vintage and resulting wine was suave, elegant and very attractive – call it the Cary Grant of vintages!”
“2008 produced wine that is really sexy, lean, and classic – call it the Jennifer Aniston vintage.”
“Our 2008 wine shows complexity, superb talent, is perfectly poised and destined for greatness – the Meryl Streep of wine!”
“Our 2008 Cabernet has a wonderful perfume. The wine is plush, showy, complete and oozes warmth. Without question, it is the Sophia Loren vintage!”
“’08 is a fruit-forward, easily accessible, vintage for us. It is somewhat flamboyant, very pretty, fun-loving and very engaging – without question, it is the Sandra Bullock vintage!”
“We love the classic structure of ‘08, the length and the memorable finish. You know what you’re going to get – this is the Julia Roberts vintage.”
“This was our first year in which the wine was made entirely by our new winemaker Thomas Brown. As a result, the wine in 2008 is pure, lush, elegant and yet restrained – just like Grace Kelly.”
“We are high atop the valley and 2008 produced a strong, sophisticated crop, which makes me first think of Cate Blanchett. But the wine we’ve tailored from it is aggressive, edgy and one-of-a-kind, so I’d have to say, on reflection, that it’s really the Jack Nicholson vintage!”
“We’ve produced a wine in 2008 that is cerebral, real, complete and expressive – everything that is Meryl Streep!”
For those who have never attended one of Napa Valley’s wine auctions, here’s what happens – bidders can raise the price on a wine lot to $37,000 in under a minute! This was the action on the lot for five cases of Shafer Cabernet. Although the hammer came down at the end of the clip at $34,000, a few bidders at the back of the room had their paddles raised and after I stopped taping, Fritz Hatton re-opened the bidding war and the price jumped from $34,000 to $37,000. Or $616 a bottle, if you care about details. For those who have never attended one of Napa Valley’s wine auctions, here’s what happens – bidders can raise the price on a wine lot to $37,000 in under a minute! This was the action on the lot for five cases of Shafer Cabernet. Although the hammer came down at the end of the clip at $34,000, a few bidders at the back of the room had their paddles raised and after I stopped taping, Fritz Hatton re-opened the bidding war and the price jumped from $34,000 to $37,000. Or $616 a bottle, if you care about details.