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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

2014 Auction Napa Valley: Sweet Homecoming For Napa Valley

It's time to uncork another insiders-look, into the world of high-end Food and Wine, an article written by regular guest contributor; Ilona Thompson. In this week’s article she will focus on the sites, sounds and tastes of the iconic Auction Napa Valley. She's the Editor in Chief for Palate Exposure, a self-described believer in the Sustainability of Critical Thinking and Personal Responsibility. She is also a regular contributor to the Brenner Brief.

It is the most exhilarating weekend of the year in Napa Valley; overflowing with euphoric anticipation, filling the balmy June air with excitement.

Auction Napa Valley (ANV) seems to be everyone's favorite charity event. Since its start in 1981, the Napa Valley Vintners Association, which operates Auction Napa Valley, has raised and donated more $120 million to community causes.

The 34th Annual ANV, titled "Sweet Home Napa Valley," had a pair of gargantuan shoes to fill. Last year, the most watched wine auction in the country, broke its own previous record, raising $16.9 million for local health care and children’s education programs. The wine community brimmed with happy anticipation, combined with a hint of trepidation, a tough standard to live up to.

Saturday evening the world learned that they need not have worried. Auction Napa Valley set a new record by raising 18.7 million dollars; surpassing the previous record by 10% and solidifying ANV reputation as the most prestigious and highly effective charity auction in the US.

Multiple lots earned over $400,000, with several prominent vintners becoming top bidders themselves. Prior to the main event, many participating vintner hosts went all-out for to support the four-day event by hosting pre-parties or winery sponsored dinners prepared by private Chefs. The barrel and live auctions were, once again, runaway successes.

After a head spinning final tally and an extravagant epicurean journey (with lots of culinary and winemaking celebrity sightings) one wonders what makes this auction so incredibly special. Is it the presence of Margrit Mondavi, widow of the late Robert Mondavi, who has been involved with every wine auction from its inception? Is it the site of Thomas Keller, Michael Chiarello and Masaharu Morimoto greeting guests and chatting away with fellow chefs? Is it the rivers of extraordinary wines, freely poured?

Is it the ostentatious, one-of a kind lot’s, such as the Star of Africa pendant studded with 100 diamonds and encased in a fluid-filled sapphire orb? Or is it the opportunity to experience the debut of Bill Harlan's "Promontory"?  I think not. What makes this event special is that it is an event by the community for the community; permeated with the pure spirit of neighbor helping neighbor.

This large scale, theatrical production, which takes over a year to plan and countless individuals to execute it is a real coup d’état. Although appears effortless, this gargantuan task brings together seasoned auctioneers, chefs, winemakers, and industry luminaries, all bound together by copious amounts of goodwill. It's where worlds intersect; billionaires meet volunteers, community leaders assist vintners, and police officers volunteer their time. It’s a place to see and be seen but where charity is the greatest equalizer.

By the Numbers:
  • 500 Vintner members. 1000 Vintners participated.
  • 1000 Barrel Auction guests. 100 barrels of predominantly 2012 Cabernet. Total $1.694 million. Top Lot: Brand Napa Valley at $83,050 (followed by Shafer Vineyards: $55,200 and Continuum Estate: $52,750)
  •  E-auction open to everyone: 175 lots. Total $490,000. Top Lot: Continuum Estate, Freemark Abbey and Staglin - $21,000
  • 50 live auction lots, 5 hours of bidding, 1000 attendees. Total 16.6 million, 7 lots were doubled to accommodate the under-bidder.
Top Live Auction Lots were:


The total dollars raised: $3.8 million, 100 bidders energetically raising their paddles, with highest contribution of $1 million by billionaire Kieu Hoang. A Vietnam-born U.S. citizen, Hoang is the pharmaceuticals executive of companies focused on plasma, and a believer in the link between wine and good health. Having already spent $240,000 for a lot that included a jeroboam of 2010 Ovid, dinner for eight and the services of the famed architect's Harold Backen who will design or remodel a house or a winery; Hoang seemed elated to contribute more to his new wine home base.

"Promontory" by Bill Harlan: $600,000

Acquired by a vintner and philanthropist Lee Anderson, this lot entitles him to the lifetime 1st Mailing List Customer title as well as ten cases of the first ten vintages of wine produced by Promontory. It also included five double magnums from the 2009 through the 2013 vintage and accommodations at Meadowood, along with lunch or dinner for 30 at the estate.

Opus One: $550,000

Next year's Auction Chairs, enticed five couples to pay $110,000 each for a trip to Bordeaux, a visit to Château Mouton-Rothschild, Mondavi's partner in Opus One, five large format bottles of Opus One, and VIP packages to Auction Napa Valley 2015.

Araujo Estates: $520,000

Araujo Estates' new owners, The Pinault Wine Group offered a whirlwind trip to Bordeaux; including tours of Château Latour, Margaux, Pessac-Léognan, St.-Emilion and Pomerol. Also included was a 6-liter bottle of Araujo for the winner's cellar.

Raymond Vineyards: $840,000 (Winning bid $420,000, doubled for two separate winners)

The charismatic Jean-Charles Boisset, with the help of his friend Harvey Weinstein, offered the winning bidder an unforgettable night at the Academy Awards, including a private jet, evening gown, tuxedo, an Oscar after-party, a VIP table, with plenty of chances to hobnob with Hollywood elite. Also included were double magnums and a Salmanazar of Raymond Vineyards Generations Cabernet.

Casa Piena: $420,000

In addition to a couple of delicious double magnums from proprietors Carmen and Gail Policy’s Casa Piena, the winning bidders are entitled to four tickets to the 2016 Super Bowl in Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara, as well as a pre-Super Bowl party with the NFL Commissioner.

Chappellet Vineyard: $410,000

Blakesley and Cyril Chappellet offered a "traveling in style" package, that includes a ten-day trip for four to New Zealand, business class, lodging, 10 dinners in NZ plus a lavish dinner for 24 in Napa Valley, and four double magnums of Pritchard Hill Cabernet Sauvignon.
Lokoya: $400,000

If you would rather visit Australia, this package included a ten-day trip to for two, including a helicopter tour of Adelaide, private winery tours and sixteen bottles of wine.

Gargiulo Vineyards, Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars: $400,000

This lot included a trip to Colorado’s Diamond Tail Ranch, four Fender guitars, four target rifles, four fly rods, meals by Charlie Palmer, entertainment by Grammy Award winner Billy Dean, plus three wines offered by the Duncans and Gargiulos.

Mayacamas Vineyards: $660,000 (Winning bid was $330,000, doubled for two bidders)

Mayacamas Vineyards, recently acquired by Charles Banks (former Screaming Eagle partner), offered a stunning historic collection of wine, including a magnum from 1964 and five jeroboams from 1978, 1989, 1997, 2002 and 2013 as well as a six-decade vertical tasting. Also included were two dinners for twelve at their historic property, prepared by Blackberry Farms' Chef Joseph Lenn, as well as a two-night stay for six couples at the Mayacamas estate on Mt Veeder.

Napa Valley Vintners and Lexus: $580,000 (Winning bid $290,000, lot doubled for two separate bidders)
This lot included a three-day cycling adventure for two couples in the Great Smoky Mountains, four customized Panatela bicycles, 48 bottles of Napa Valley wine. Tickets to the Tour de Smokies, include accommodations and meals at Blackberry Farm in Tennessee and use of Lexus vehicles.

Darioush and Robb Report Magazine: $440,000 (Winning bid $220, 00, paid by two separate bidders)

Judgeship for the 2015 Robb Report Car of the Year and 2015 Culinary Masters Competition, five-night stay at Four Seasons Maui, five-night stay and Four Seasons Bora Bora, and dinner for five couples with Darioush and Shahpar Khaledi.

One of the most intense foodie lots, Colgin Cellars, offering four double magnums and a dinner for 50 (!) at either the French Laundry or Per Se, sold for $340,000.

For those looking for fantasy and once in a lifetime adventure, this was a playground like no other. International destinations, such as France, Australia and New Zealand lots were clear winners, but so were the "sweet home" lots.

David Alan Bernahl, founder of Coastal Luxury Management who produces Pebble Beach Food and Wine (among many other luxury wine and food events) attended the event; he was very impressed! No slouch when it comes to top notch food and wine events, his appraisal of ANV was sky high.

I had a chance to spend some time with Sex in the City star, Kyle Maclachlan who was in town filming Anthony Bourdain's new show, "The Getaway". This show follows celebrities into their favorite locations. He was filming a segment in Napa's famous bakery, Alexis Baking Co and briefly stopped in at ANV. Himself a vintner and a philanthropist in his native WA state, he spoke eloquently about the importance of giving back to the community: 
"It's not just the right thing to do; it's an important part of connecting with and supporting one another."
All in all, ANV demonstrated, once more, the generosity of those who love to visit and who inhabit this very blessed spot. One can't argue with success, and, certainly, one can't argue with love for your extended family; your community, and your favorite place to come home to... Home indeed, is where the heart is.

Congratulations, ANV, you deserve it all.

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