$3,044,500 to be exact, by napaman’s tally.
More than 1,000 wine tradespeople, media personnel and winemakers crammed into the barrel room of the Culinary Institute of America (CIA), in St. Helena, today to taste barrel samples of more than 210 wines, most of them from 2011, and then to bid on them.
The event was organized by the Napa Valley Vintners’(NVV) association. Proceeds from the auction are used to promote the valley’s wines. NVV represents about 450 local wineries.
What winemakers were promoting today was their 2011 vintage; guests were given a chance to peak beneath Pandora’s skirt – this was the first official chance for the wine trade to taste the 2011 Cabernets.
Initially, 2011 was the Rodney Dangerfield of vintages; it didn’t get much respect.
Wine writers wrote off the vintage as being water-logged. Production was down so low that many winemakers talked about the pounds of fruit they got off an acre rather than the tons they normally harvest.
Napaman reveals all
But here’s my tip: FORGET what you’ve heard, or read, about the 2011 vintage of Napa Valley Cabs.
Doomsdayers who predicted that the water-logged crop would be lean, mean and green were WRONG. Just plain wrong.
I’ve just spent three days tasting through dozens of 2011 Cabs and 2011 blends and these wines are soft, pretty, even elegant. And approachable on release. These will be great wines for restaurant wine lists. And also for impatient wine drinkers who don’t want to wait seven years for their wines to age.
The only word one wouldn’t include in describing these wines is “complex.”
Of the 2011 Cabs, which I have tasted, not a single one could be described as “showing great complexity.”
From today’s barrel sampling, I really loved these wines:
2011 Vineyard 29 Cabernet Sauvignon which exhibited a juicy core of fresh, ripe fruit and sweet dark cherries; one of the more thrilling wines of the day, I thought. And so did someone else because the lot fetched $27,000 at auction for 60-bottles.
2011 Turnbull Wine Cellars Cabernet Sauvignon, cuvee Le Corbeau.
"! ! !" This was the complete set of notes I made about this wine, so impressed was I by the presence of fruit and character - three very large exclamation marks in the column of my notebook. Nothing more needs to be said about this glorious wine.
2011 ADV (Adler Deutsch Vineyard) Rutherford Cabernet.
I am NOT raving about this wine because I am a personal friend of the Adlers; I just didn’t think it fair to penalize them by omitting their wine because they are friends.
Besides, I heard enough positive spin around the barrel tasting room about this wine to know that I am not alone in praising it; it reminds me of a young Spottswoode, it’s that good.
Elegant, pretty, extremely well balanced and expressing a minerality, which I did not find in many wines of the vintage.
Regular readers of napaman.com will recall that I typically ask winemakers at the annual barrel auction to describe wines of the vintage in terms of a Hollywood star or actor – to give readers a more vivid sense of what the vintage holds, or is like. You know, is it an edgy, boring, or flashy vintage?
Here’s how winemakers responded to the question this year:
If the 2011 vintage in Napa Valley were a Hollywood star, who would it be?
“Debby Reynolds. Not because we share the same last name, but because she is classy, classic, stands the test of time and is not flashy. Just like wines of the 2011 vintage.”
“Catherine Deneuve. She is elegant, understated, elegant – a timeless beauty.”
“Natalie Portman. She is small in stature but her performances are BIG!”
“I think the 2011 vintage is best represented by a nameless Sundance Indie actor. Someone who is charming, not well known, somewhat awkward, waiting to be discovered.”
“Anne Hathaway, for sure. The wines from this vintage remind me of her – soft, elegant, voluptuous and unforgettable.”
Sue Parry (right) who with her husband Stephen makes a wonderful Cabernet, volunteered to pour wines at lunch; she took the bottle table labeled A-J while Stephen was nearby pouring from bottles labeled K to Z.
Lunch for 1,000 is prepared by students at the CIA, and all the wines are donated by NVV sponsors.
It’s usually a free-for-all at lunch, as guests race to try favorite, hard-to-get wines.
After lunch for 1,000 in the CIA kitchen, the auction gets underway in an adjacent room. The air is chilled by the activity of bidders raising their paddles:
The largest single lot sold was $75,000 for 120 bottles of Bevan Cellars and Chateau Boswell Winery’s 2011 Red Wine called “We Will Rock You.”
And the largest price PER BOTTLE was paid for 60 bottles of Shafer Vineyards – Total Wine, a chain with 89 stores across the country, bid $50,000 for the lot, bringing the price per bottle to $833.33.
Total Wine also happened to buy the Bevan/Boswell lot above, too.
"We want the industry to know that we are serious about high-end wine and the Napa Valley Vintners Premiere Barrel Auction allows us to offer wines not avaialble anywhere else," a spokesperson for Total Wine told napaman.
"Some people only see us as a big box store, but we are focusing on acquiring impossible-to-come-by wines for our high-end clientele. We purchased many of the top lots at the Barrel Auction, including Bevan/Boswell, Shafer, Cade, Pride, Moone Tsai, Chappellet, Silver Oak, Rombauer, Amici, Spring Mountain, Stags Leap, Baldacci, Raymond, Red Mare, VinRoc, and Peter Paul," the spokesperson added.
In an unusual move, someone bid $316.66 per bottle for a Sauvignon Blanc – the 2011 from Lail Vineyards.
Sure hope we don’t see retail prices like this when these wines hit the street!
I couldn’t help overhearing the conversation of two young wine producers on the shuttle bus from the event parking lot to the CIA. They made no effort to guard their conversation or keep it private.
Helen Buehler, on the bus, to a wine pal:
“I had to stay out drinking with a Canadian film crew last night and didn’t get home until 5 am (it being 9 am when she said this).”
“How do you feel?” asked her friend out loud?
“If my hangover were a person, it would be John Goodman!”
Which says it all.
It turns out that even hangovers have star qualities at the Premiere Barrel Auction.