Auction Napa Valley: Then and Now

Auction from above
Photo courtesy Auction Napa Valley

Now in its 36th year, Auction Napa Valley has been around long enough to see a baton be passed down from one generation to the next. Twenty years ago, in 1996, Agustin Huneeus of Quintessa, Mount Veeder Winery and Franciscan Oakville Estate chaired the auction. This year, it’s his son, Agustin F. Huneeus who’s in charge.

The event kicks off Friday, June 3, with the Barrel Auction hosted at Robert Mondavi Winery. The winery is celebrating its 50th anniversary. At the event, vintners will be pouring their current releases and selling 100-barrel lots of wine futures, raising money for the dozens of charities the event benefits. More than 2,000 guests are expected to attend.

Saturday, the live auction follows at Meadowood, where it has been held since 1981. Over that time, the total auction proceeds have brought in more than $150 million for the local community. Last year’s take alone was a hefty $15.8 million.

This year, Huneeus is shifting to more of a nighttime focus, wanting to throw a good party in addition to raising money. The auction tent will take on a nightclub-like atmosphere with live music and dancing once the sun goes down.

“I’m switching up the pace, the cadence of the auction,” he said. “I want to keep it briefer, to go from five hours to three, making sure the lots are really great, pound-for-pound the best lots we’ve ever had, do this quickly and then have a great party. We all go to a lot of great dinners, but we don’t go to enough good parties.”

What else has changed over the decades?

A view of 2015's auctions
A view of 2015’s auction board / Photo courtesy Auction Napa Valley

Musical guest

1996: Narada Michael Walden

2016: Los Van Van, a 30-piece Cuban band

Live Auction time

1996: Noon–6 pm

2016: 2:30 pm–10 pm

Ticket price

1996: $1,250/couple

2016: $4,000/person


1996: Fred Halpert of Brava Terrace, Bob Hurley of NV Grille and Jan Birnbaum of Catahoula Restaurant and Saloon

2016: Francis Mallmann of 1884, Garzon, Patagonia Sur, Los Fuegos at the Faena Hotel Miami and Siete Fuegos at The Vines Resort & Spa

Highest barrel lot

1996: $23,500 for Staglin Vineyards

2016: TBD; in 2015 Atelier Melka and Realm Cellars brought in about $200,000 each

Highest bid

1996: $150,0000 for A Vintner for All Seasons (which broke records as the highest bid ever at that time), a series of four dinner parties staged by a group of vintners at the winning bidder’s home anywhere in the United States, won by Chuck Sweeney, founder of Vine Cliff Winery

2016: TBD; in 2015 the highest single bid was $850,000 for a joint lot between singer-songwriter John Legend and Raymond Vineyards for a 30-person dinner and private performance

Total raised

1996: $2.3 million

2016: TBD; the highest raised in one year so far is $18.7 million, in 2014

Published on June 2, 2016
Topics: Editor SpeakNapa ValleyNapa Wine Auction