Under several Big Tops…. 2,000 guests nibbled hand-held appetizers, presented by 40 of the valley’s top chefs and caterers, then paired the food selections with hundreds of offered wines.
This is Day One of Napa Valley Vintners’ annual community fundraiser, the most celebrated charity wine auction in the world. Over many years, the annual event has raised -- and then donated -- more than $100 million to health, youth and affordable housing non-profit programs in the valley.
Essentially, Auction Napa Valley is a restrained three-day mosh pit for wine lovers who don’t like mud.
Founded in 1981, thanks to the vision of Robert and Margrit Mondavi, this annual wine event showcases the best of Napa Valley’s wine and food.
Locals are given a chance to participate at Friday’s Barrel Auction and Marketplace; for a $350 attendance fee, they get to sample more than 100 wines offered in an online barrel auction and feast on foods prepared by more than 40 local chefs and caterers.
In this respect, Friday is a day of sophisticated indulgence.
Observation about the event
Owing to the way the winery and food kiosks were randomly placed next to one another, Napaman found many deep, dark, brooding Cabernets being poured next to stations serving uncomplimentary dishes like shrimp, or seafood.
Suggestion to organizers: Next year have a series of red wine stations under one tent paired with food purveyors serving ribs, and meaty dishes, and have wineries serving whites and roses in a second tent, served with foods that complement such wines.
Masaharu Morimoto, who has eight eponymous restaurants serving his edgy Japanese fare, presented what I thought was the single best hand-held food item at the Friday food festival – sensational Hamachi tacos, made from a recipe Morimoto created for his restaurant in Mexico City.
Neno Giovani, the smiling GM at Bistro Don Giovanni, serves one of Scott Warner’s focaccia breads, which has been filled with Gorgonzola dolce, arugula and apricot. I have eaten at Bistro Don Giovanni more than 300 times since moving to Napa Valley and have never had a disappointing meal here.
After the midday food festival ….
Guests start to move into the underground barrel room of Jarvis Winery to take part in the colorful barrel auction.
Jarvis Winery, located north and east of the town of Napa, is built entirely underground. As a consequence, the food festival, known as Marketplace, was presented on a grassy patch leading into the sunken winery; the wines-in-barrel being auctioned were on view in the underground bunker.
According to Napa Valley Register reporter Pierce Carson, the Jarvis barrel chai, where the barrel tasting was held “is the one of the largest underground man-made chambers in the world.” (Chai, pronounced SHAY, is the French term for the room where wines are aged.)
I’ve never seen a carpeted underground wine facility, but the first 100, or so, feet of the Jarvis cellar is carpeted. This leads into a series of chambers, and if you are on the right path to the wine auction, you pass a gurgling waterfall… continue on the yellow brick road until you reach… the chai!
When I left the din of the dungeon, guests had bid up a single case of 2010 Shafer Hillside Select (Stag’s Leap District) to $7700 a case.
The underground scene was chaotic, noisy and claustrophobic; too many people in such a tight space; guests had to yell to be heard when standing next to each other. Hey! Wait a minute – sounds like just about every restaurant at which I dined last week in New York City!
Favorite line overheard at the Friday Barrel Auction:
Don Weaver, Estate Director at Harlan Estate, known for high-scoring, price-soaring, highly collectable, Cabernets:
“I’m going to try and show some personal growth today… and have a glass of white wine…”