Premier Napa Valley Proceeds Down, Though Mood is Festive

The annual industry event brings in $1.5 million; top bid is purchased by a Japanese consortium.

The 13th annual Premier Napa Valley barrel tasting and charity wine auction has come and gone, with proceeds down 32 percent from a year ago—not as bad as some had feared, given the dismal state of the economy, which is sending shockwaves even through Napa's wealthiest enclaves.

Some 200 one-of-a-kind barrel samples were offered for a walk-around tasting on Feb. 21st, mainly to members of the wine trade, who use the annual event to gauge the quality of the last few vintages, and also to schmooze and do business. The grand affair, second in importance only to the Napa Wine Auction itself, is held at the Culinary Institute of America, in St. Helena, across Highway 29 from Charles Krug Winery; funds raised go to Napa Valley Vintners, a non-profit dedicated to protecting the Napa Valley Appellation.

The floor of the giant tasting room, an old winemaking facility from when the building served as Christian Brothers' headquarters, was thronged with tasters from all over the world. The mood was festive, but auction goers clearly were more hesitant to bid than they had been for the past several years.

Total proceeds were about $1.5 million, compared to last year's record $2.2 million. That was the lowest take since 2005's $1.4 million, but still well above 2004's $987,000.

Vintners are asked to prepare unusual lots, wines that are not part of their regular commercial repertoire. Two of my favorites were from Vineyard 7 & 8, which made a Cabernet Sauvignon that was a blend of the winery's Spring Mountain grapes with fruit from the Oakville bench, and Covenant, whose Cabernet was a blend from the Larkmead Vineyard, in Calistoga, and the Rudd-Mount Veeder Estate. I also liked Shafer's Sunspot Vineyard Cabernet, made from grapes that normally go into the winery's Hillside Select bottling. Other outstanding lots included Rubicon's Clone 29 Cabernet, Honig's 2006 Campbell Vineyard Cabernet and Hall's 2007 Block A Cabernet, made from the Sacrashe Vineyard above the Silverado Trail.

The top bid was $80,000, for 5 cases of a Scarecrow 2007 Cabernet Sauvignon. Perhaps tellingly, it was purchased by a Japanese consortium.

Premier Napa Valley is produced by the Napa Valley Vintners. For more information on 2010's events, visit


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