The 29th Auction Napa Valley, held June 4-7, 2009, took an expected hit from the recession this weekend raising $5.7 million for local charities, down nearly half from the $10.35 million it took in last year. Comprised of four days of events, the wine industry’s most illustrious charity auction, which has raised $85 million since its beginning in 1981, was sold out and festively attended. But as with the wine buying public, bidders were willing to spend, just not as much as in previous years.
“No one expected to shatter any records, but the outpouring of generosity from our bidders, vintners and community is heartwarming,” said Janet Trefethen of Trefethen Family Vineyards, chair of this year’s event. “Every dollar raised this weekend is one more than we had before for these organizations that need help.”
While last year comedian Jay Leno opened the auction with Oprah Winfrey in attendance, this year’s celebrity sightings were few, with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom, a Napa Valley vintner himself with the PlumpJack and Cade wineries, topping the list. This time, there was no official emcee, instead “Windows on the World Wine Course” author Kevin Zraly opened up the live auction on Saturday, a favor to close friends John and Janet Trefethen, getting the crowd loose and laughing by asking people to raise their hands if they remembered drinking Riunite, Blue Nun or Lancer’s in college. Many hands were raised.
The live auction featured 42 lots pairing premium Napa Valley wine with exclusive dinners, trips, jewelry, artwork or other luxury items. Longtime auctioneer Fritz Hatton, also a Napa Valley vintner (Arietta Wines), presided over the bidding, along with first-time co-auctioneer Viveca Paulin, better known as comedian Will Ferrell’s wife. Paulin acknowledged from the stage that her husband was in New York for the Tony Awards.
Paulin was effective and efficient behind the gavel, but may have caught a break this go-round, as bidding was for the most part straightforward, with little of the frenzied back and forth between bidders seen in past years.
The top lot of the night was nearly its last, an offering from Antica Napa Valley-Antinori Family Wine Estate, offered by Marchese Piero Antinori, which included an elaborate, gourmet wine and food trip to Italy. Three bidders, including Mary Miner, the owner of Oakville Ranch Winery, competed to push the bidding up to $1 million, with the Marchese himself agreeing to triple the lot so all three parties could win.
A doubling also occurred for a joint lot being offered by Staglin Family Vineyards and HdV, where a bidder at the event and another by phone combined to up the final $200,000 bid to $400,000. Both will now enjoy a trip to Burgundy, along with numerous lunches, dinners, tastings, winery visits and of course, wine.
A phone also played prominently in Harlan Estate’s winning bid, which shot up to a final $130,000 as the crowd shouted in excitement as a young man strained to hear.
The hubbub was followed by a heartfelt, happy tribute lot dedicated to Jamie Davies, the pioneering vintner of Schramsberg who died last year. Twenty-five of Davies’s closest women vintner friends joined together to contribute 50 magnums of wine from their own cellars (Araujo, Chappellet, Corison, Heitz, Lail, Quintessa, Shafer and Spottswoode among them), in addition to an original piece of art by Napa artist Robilee Frederick. It fetched $100,000.
Still, bids stayed well under six figures until about halfway through the auction when a Colgin Cellars lot (seven bottles of wine, dinner for eight and cooking class for four) finally broke through, raising $120,000 from longtime auction attendees Jim Clary and Leon Dreimann of Chicago, who combined forces to win the bid, Clary noting, “we were at our limit.”