On Saturday, Feb. 23, hundreds of wine trade buyers attended Premiere Napa Valley auction at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone Cellars and spent nearly $3.7 million for 187 lots. The proceeds go to the Napa Valley Vintners trade association. These lots were mostly barrel futures and rare bottlings that included 10 wines from 2017, which attracted more than $500 per bottle.
Last year, the auction earned $4.1 million for 218 lots.
Premiere Napa Valley’s Top Bottles
Topping the list was Schrader Cellars’ 2017 Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon made by Thomas Rivers Brown from the Monastery Block of the famed To Kalon Vineyard. H-E-B stores, based in San Antonio, Texas, bid $80,000 for what will be an exclusive selection of 60 bottles, making the per-bottle price $1,333.
Not far behind was a 60-bottle lot of Shafer Vineyards’ 2017 Stags Leap District Cabernet Sauvignon Sunspot for which retailer Total Wine & More paid the equivalent of $1,167 per bottle. Shafer winemaker Elias Fernandez said he typically makes the winery’s Premiere lot from this single vineyard block that would otherwise go into the winery’s coveted Hillside Select wine.
This year’s auction chairman, Aaron Pott, of Pott Wines, fashioned three wines that also garnered more than $500 a bottle, including a Pott Vineyard 2017 Cabernet Franc Gravity’s Rainbow from his own vineyard on Mt. Veeder.
It was lot No. 1 that went to Cliffewood Wine Syndicate, a group of more than a dozen wine enthusiasts from Little Rock, Arkansas, who paid $35,000 for Pott’s estate-grown wine.
It was the barrel auction’s 23rd year and the first opportunity for a large number of retailers, restaurateurs and other buyers to taste and assess Napa’s 2017 vintage.
2017 Napa Vintage Challenges
The growing season in 2017 held a few challenges for the wine grape crop, including a torrid heat spike on the Labor Day weekend and wild fires that hit in October, blanketing Napa Valley in wood smoke after most—but not all—of the grapes had been harvested.
During the bidding, auctioneer Fritz Hatton asked the audience how they remembered 1987, 1997 and 2007, all of which were big, ripe, and in many instances, long-aging vintages for Napa wines. Hatton urged bidders to consider this latest year ending in seven as fitting into this group.
However, the event sponsor, the Napa Valley Vintners trade association, acknowledged in the auction catalog that nature “threw curveballs” and that winemakers’ “skills and patience were paramount” in crafting the “graceful” 2017 wines.
Premiere Napa Valley’s Attendees
Bill Hayes, wine category manager of BevMo stores, described the 2017s he tasted as “full of finesse and elegance. They’re charming wines that express a seamlessness and long finish that will make these wines approachable early.”
He was among bidders who came from across the United States and as far away as Vancouver, Zurich and Tokyo to barrel taste. The wines they bid on were one-of-a-kind selections crafted by vintners association members, and none will be otherwise available in the marketplace.
Upon release each bottle is hand-numbered and signed by the winemaker, increasing potential collectibility.
Consumers who wish to buy Premiere wines can go to their website to search the catalog and find out how to contact the buyers.