The price paid per bottle for 2012 Scarecrow’s special Cabernet selection called Toto’s Opium Dream, Scene III. A 5-case lot sold for $260,000 this weekend. That’s $52,000 a case, or $4,333.33 per bottle.
More than 600 wine buyers, restaurant wine directors, sommeliers and wine retailers descended on Napa Valley this weekend for a three-day, mid-winter, extravaganza known as Premiere Napa Valley.
For the first two days, appellation associations and individual wineries entertained the out-of-town tradesfolk at daytime and late-into-the-night parties.
And then Saturday, the trade crammed into the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus, in St. Helena, to bid $5.9 million for one-of-a-kind, auction lots of (mostly) 2012, not-yet-released, Napa Valley Cabernets.
Fritz Hatton, one of two auctioneers, set the tempo for a three-and-a-half-hour auction, which raised $5.9 million.
Previously, the high water mark of auction proceeds from this annual event was last year’s $3,044,500. In other words, Napa Valley Vintners, organizers of the event, nearly doubled their best-ever previous total. Doubled!
Today’s barrel auction, the 18th annual version, is one of the wine trade’s most eagerly anticipated auctions because it gives buyers their first glimpse – and first taste -- of the next, soon-to-be-released vintage of Napa Valley Cabernet.
Wine buyers from 8 countries and 28 states attended the auction.
Proceeds support Napa Valley Vintners’ mission to promote the Napa Valley appellation, its wines, vintners and community. With this auction’s astounding results -- $5.9 million -- they should have enough funds to promote Napa Valley wines even on Mars!
The highest bid for a lot was the $260,000 bid for 5 cases of 2012 Scarecrow. It was purchased by Los Angles retailer The Wine House.
“We are thrilled to bring home this magnificent wine, drawn from the J.J. Cohn vineyard from nearly seventy-year-old vines,” Bill Knight of The Wine House, told organizers.
For consumers who read this blog, the big question, of course, is:
“OK, just how good are the 2012 Napa Valley Cabs?”
While most winemakers with whom I spoke over the three-day, wine weekend deemed 2012 “the best vintage we have seen in at least 15 years,” wine producers are fully aware that 2013, coming down the pike for release next year, is an even better vintage.
One talented winemaker, who asked to remain unnamed, told me:
“2012 was a perfect vintage. I mean PERFECT. But wine makers are reluctant to say it’s the ‘Vintage of a lifetime,’ because we all know that one year from today, at next year’s barrel auction, we’re all going say that 2013 is the ‘Vintage of a lifetime,’ and you know how that’s going to fly - we’re going to look like jerks for saying the same thing two years in a row.”
What winemakers say on the record about the 2012 vintage
Mary Rocca, owner, and Paul Colantuoni, consulting winemaker, Rocca Family Vineyard
Paul Colantuoni, consulting winemaker to Rocca Family Vineyard:
“The fruit in 2012 is a mile deep and a mile wide. We LOVE our 2012 Cabernet.” Paul said this with a capital-letters-kind-of-emphasis on the word ‘love.’
Winemaker dad, Chris Phelps, and winemaker son, Josh Phelps, who produce Ad Vivum Cellars
Chris Phelps, who is winemaker at Swanson and also winemaker of his own brand, Ad Vivum, summarized the 2012 vintage:
“This is the first of two back-to-back vintages which demonstrate what Napa Valley Cabernet can achieve. There were no weather extremes in 2012. Vineyard managers just watched and waited... watched and waited. If you picked at the peak of ripeness, and didn’t mistreat your fruit – you made gorgeous Cabernet.”
Nicole and Ryan Hill of Hill Family Estate
“2012 was a rare vintage,” says Ryan Hill of Hill Family Estate, in Yountville. “It was one of those rare years when grape growers were happy with what they produced... and wine makers were happy with what they produced. In most years, one of them is unhappy – and often with the other’s output!”
Jean-Charles Boisset, owner of Raymond Vineyards, hosted a magnificent party Thursday for the St. Helena Appellation in his winery’s “Crystal Room.” Glasses were abundantly filled with extravagant wines from the 2010, 2011 or 2012 vintage, poured by reps from 31 different appellation wineries. Space does not permit a detailed critique of these wines, but they were real palate pleasers.
Katharine DeSante, winemaker, and Linda Neal, owner, Tierra Roja Vineyards.
“2012 was a classic vintage,” says Katharine DeSante, winemaker at Tierra Roja Vineyards. “The wine has excellent structure and textbook balance.”
Elias Fernandez, winemaker, Shafer Vineyards.
“2012 is a poster child for the perfect vintage,” says Elias Fernandez, who has been making wine at Shafer Vineyards, earning impressive scores and begetting a cult following, for 30 years.
“I started working with Doug (Shafer) 30 years ago next month - specifically, March 24, 1984,” Elias adds.
(As an aside: Napaman has learned that to commemorate their 30-year history together, Elias and Doug are launching a wine to be called something like “Project 84” in the next few weeks. Details will be announced shortly.)
Greg Martin, owner, and Aaron Pott, consulting winemaker, Martin Estate
Napaman asked Aaron Pott, consulting winemaker to Martin Estate, to complete the sentence: “The 2012 Napa Valley Vintage is ___________.”
Aaron filled in the blank: “... a vintage of exceptional elegance.”
He went on to say that while the vintage is not one of power (that will come with 2013 Cabernets when released a year or more from now), it is a vintage of noticeable complexity.
Aaron compares the 2012 vintage to 1991, which was one of my own personal favorite vintages of the entire 1990s decade, and compares the next-to-be-released Cabernets from 2013 similar to wines from the 1994 vintage, only better.
After tasting more than 100 Cabernet-based wines this weekend from the 2012 vintage, my own observation is that I can’t remember a barrel auction in the last 15 years at which the still-in-barrel samples were so gorgeous and approachable. I have never applied the word “delicious” to so many barrel samples.
Basically, what most winemakers say about the 2012 vintage is that if you are a local winemaker and failed to make a gorgeous, voluptuous, harmonious, approachable, elegant wine, perhaps you should think about a new career – maybe try working at that other Napa – the one that specializes in Auto Parts... this one:
Molly Brooks-Thornton, of the Barrel Room, San Diego, CA, and Rina Bussell of Altura Restaurant, Seattle, WA, taste through 62 different wines blind at the Friday Multi-Vintage Perspective hosted by Napa Valley Vintners.
The barrel tasting
Preceding Saturday’s barrel auction, out-of-town wine buyers caromed from kiosk to kiosk in the CIA’s barrel room, tasting as many of the 225 to-be-auctioned wines as possible in a three-hour, free-for-all.
After the barrel tasting, guests were invited to a sensational lunch prepared by culinary students at the CIA. This is often my favorite buffet of the year, just as the barrel auction is one of my favorite wine events of the year. I enjoyed a 2009 Shafer Hillside Select Cabernet with my meal selections – guests had their choice of hundreds of different, top-tier Napa Valley wines.
The single best scallop that I have tasted in the past five years was served at the luncheon buffet; a sweet and sensuous sea scallop, served atop a puree of mashed potato and celery root puree, was crowned with a dollop of fermented, black garlic aioli. Napaman went back for three servings – THAT’S how good they were. Chef-to-be Heidi Mitchell, served them (above).
The little darlin’s...
And finally, for sheer originality...
I noticed the following tattoo of an old-fashioned, wooden, grape press on the forearm of Kenneth Olsen, a Dane who lives in Copenhagen, who attended Premiere to purchase Napa Valley wines for clients in Copenhagen. Now that’s wine passion – way to go, Ken!