Under clear, blue skies and surrounded by picture-perfect vineyard landscapes, some 3,000 wine lovers flocked to the 26th annual Auction Napa Valley in early June. The four-day event raised $8.4 million dollars for local charities. To open the festivities, the grounds at Trinchero Family Estates (aka Sutter Home Winery) were transformed into a European-style marketplace with café-inspired al fresco seating arrangements. Bidders and guests enjoyed Napa Valley wines paired with a dazzling array of comestibles prepared by many of the valley’s best-known chefs. Among them was The French Laundry’s celebrity chef/owner Thomas Keller, who strolled among the crowd bearing a tray of delicious shortbread cookies.
Keller’s hungry fans included film and television star, Geena Davis, who paired up with Hollywood film executive and Napa vintner Rich Frank of Frank Family Vineyards to collaborate on a live auction lot. The lot featured a walk-on role in her upcoming television film, Commander in Chief, based on the television show in which she plays America’s first woman president.
2006 10 Top Live Lots
Staglin Family Vineyards, $1.05 million
Colgin Cellars, $380,000
Frank Family Vineyards, $305,000
Chair’s Lot, $300,000
Duckhorn Vineyards, $200,000
Joseph Phelps Vineyards, $180,000
Robert Mondavi Winery, $180,000
Arietta Winery, $180,000
Davis gave a stellar auction performance as she mingled easily among bidders and danced late into the night following the live auction. During the bidding, she took to the stage to promote her auction lot. "I’m the fake president of the United States," Davis declared with mock gravity. "Now is the time to come to the aid of your country. Let’s start [the bidding] at $100,000." Striding across the stage, the tall, impressive actress effectively used her thespian skill to bring in a winning bid of $300,000. Koerner Rombauer, of Rombauer Vineyards, beat out the competition and landed the walk-on part in Davis’ upcoming movie with the $300,000 bid, prompting auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski to remark, "Geena, you’ll have to make him Secretary of Defense!"
American Idol’s Ryan Seacrest
|Ryan Seacrest with Kim Burrs of San Francisco, Claudia Rocksegh of Seattle and Jan Fechter of Napa|
Also in attendance as auction master of ceremonies was Ryan Seacrest, host of television’s American Idol. No stranger to fine wine, Seacrest handled his glassware like a pro during a pre-auction dinner at Far Niente Winery. "Wine is one of my favorite things in the world," said the TV star. "I’m building a 7,000-bottle cellar at my home in Los Angeles." Seacrest explained that his love of wine stemmed from his father, who taught him that fine wine was an integral part of every great meal. "As a kid I wanted to be a chef," Seacrest recalled. It’s no wonder that in addition to his television career, he’s also a partner in several Los Angeles restaurants.
To kick off the live auction, Seacrest surprised bidders with a spontaneous, impromptu offering of tickets for 8 people to attend American Idol. Included in the package was VIP treatment described as "hangin’ with Ryan." It brought in $70,000 and set the stage for the impressive bids to follow.
Record-breaking $1.05 million bid
Most noteworthy of these was the record-breaking $1.05 million
|Joy Craft bid a record-breaking $1.05 million|
bid by philanthropist Joy Craft, of Woodside, California. Craft became the auction’s top bidder for the second year in a row with her breathtaking purchase of Staglin Family Vineyard’s "French Connection" lot, which incorporated wines and meals stretching from California to France. "My life is inspired by philanthropy and giving back," Craft said. "This is a life-long mission. I grew up in a farming family. Part of my DNA is to be with the vines and vintners."
Craft bid against Silicon Valley software executive John Thompson, who offered $1 million for the Staglin lot. Thompson’s wife, Sandi, sat on his bidding paddle to prevent him from going any higher. "We can buy these wines for a lot less," she said after the bidding war was over. "But this is the best way for us to contribute to the wine community."
Adam Strum, publisher and editor of Wine Enthusiast Magazine, successfully bid $70,000 for the Constant Vineyards lot, which included 20 bottles of their great Cabernets and a four-day stay for four at their farmhouse high atop Diamond Mountain. He also contributed a lot for a $5,000 shopping spree for merchandise found in the Wine Enthusiast catalog plus a trip to New York and Broadway theater tickets.
$62 million and counting
Since its inception, Auction Napa Valley has raised some $62 million for more than 40 Napa County health, youth development and housing nonprofit organizations. Through their fundraising efforts, the Napa Valley Vintners group provides financial support for local charities that is unprecedented in any other small American agricultural community.
Geena Davis was clearly impressed by the bidders’ generosity. "I’ve held a few fundraisers myself in the past," she said. "But when we raised $200,000 for the whole event, we thought it was great. This is incredible, what’s going on here."
|The main tent at Meadowood Country Club & Spa in St. Helena, CA|
Despite steep ticket prices ($7,500 per couple for the entire event), local residents without deep pockets were still able to attend this exclusive auction. Nearly 900 locals volunteered to staff, set up and breakdown the multiple events, which unfolded at wineries throughout the valley and at the elegant Meadowood Resort, in the heart of the wine country. In a move to include less affluent locals as paying guests, tickets were made available to them for the silent auction and barrel tasting at $100, and for a special event at the nearby food and wine museum, Copia, for $50.
"We’ve tried to make the event more accessible to the people who live in the valley," said Charlie Johnston, of Helena View/Johnston Vineyards. "Many locals are volunteers at the very organizations that benefit from this auction. We want them to know what’s involved."
Mike Thompson, Napa Valley’s United States congressman, summed up the event in very human terms. "It’s the people who make it happen; the growers, the vintners, the chefs and bidders who all come together to raise money for good things."
Next year’s Auction Napa Valley is scheduled for June 7 – 10.
For more information, go to www.napavintners.com.