Saturday, 6:30 With a flourish, rolls of silver ribbons fell from the ceiling of the tent as the last lot, number 41, was sold. This was the Vintners' lot, which included, in addition to 18 bottles of wine, a round of golf at Pebble Beach with golfer Annika Sorenstam. She was on the stage to try to show the auctioneers how to put, and this undoubtedly helped raise the final bid to $200,000.

By my rough calculations, people spent around $7 million this afternoon in this tent. I remember the first time I came to wine auction. I was trying at the time, to figure out if I could afford to buy a new vacuum cleaner as mine had died. I couldn't imagine what it would be like to drop several hundred thousand on wine. It's interesting to wonder what causes people to come here and spend money that will stay here after they leave, but they certainly have a good time doing it. It's an interesting mix of partying and giving but it seems to work. 

Next up, dinner is being served outside, in case anyone could still possibly be hungry, and then dancing to the music of the Bangles. I notice people are taking their squirt guns with them.


Saturday, 5 p.m. The bids are coming in steadily, thanks, I believe to the wild antics of the auctioneers, Fritz Hatton and David Reynolds. The latter, in particular, appears to be a maniac but is quite entertaining. 

Midway, the auction paused from the lots for the Fund-a-Need part of the program. A parade of children wearing yellow T-shirts appeared to help raise funds for it. Very cute and touching, but I can' help wondering what they make of all this hooplah, and hope no one shot them with squirt guns. My notes are drenched.

Saturday, 4 p.m. The biggest lots so far are the Shafer lot ($240,000) and the Colgin, which they agreed to triple so three people can win it, and this has boosted the total raised so far by $1 million up nearly $3 million. The squirt guns are proving to be a big hit; no one at my table is bidding but they are having great fun blowing horns and squirting people. One lady nailed our photographer Jorgen Gulliksen as he ventured near the table. At least no one will complain of being hot.

Saturday, 3 p.m. It took about a half an hour to get everyone to sit down; this is a chatty group. But at 2:30 the first lot — "What's New" from new members of the Napa Valley Vintners — opened the auction. People have also discovered the silver buckets contain noisemakers and squirt guns. Compared to last year when the mood was a bit serious, with everyone wondering how the auction would do, this year people appear to be in the mood to party. 

Saturday, 2 p.m. California Repercussions has marched onto the fairway, and is headed toward the big top, the tent where the live auction is set to begin. People are streaming into it - it's air conditioned and quite comfortable. One the table are silver buckets filled with money-themed candy like Payday candy bars. The idea, I believe is to remind them, now that they are melllowed out by food and wine and sunshine, that this is when they get to spend money.


Saturday, 1 p.m. The interest for the moment is eating and drinking, although with the clear skies — the first in how long? — and rising temperatures, people are drinking as much water as wine. Lars Kronmark from the CIA at Greystone is serving "lobster taken from practical to beautiful," as Pierce described it. "Put in," he added, "this includes poaching 1,000 quail eggs, a garnish on his plate called "Lobster with Scandanavian Company." Another hit? The strawberry shortcake Paul Lemieux from Auberge du Soleil has made. "Freshest strawberries in the world," Pierce says. Lemieux gets them from the stand on Silverado Trail.

Saturday Noon - Team Auction from the Register has arrived at Auction Napa Valley 2010: fearless leader Pierce Carson, who has attend all 30 wine auctions, Jennifer Huffman, here for her first auction, photographer JL Sousa, and myself, who will apparently be the chronicler of this event. 

This is the big day: So far it appears to be detail perfect, right to the stenciled grapevines on the fairway at Meadowood. "The fairway fairies came in the night," explained Jeff McBride, from the Napa Valley Vintners, greeting guests.

The live lots, all 41, are set up in three room, drawing much attention from the guests. Of great attention too, however, is lunch being served at stations along the green. Most recognizable chef is, of course, T. Keller, passing out his trademark tiny cones filled with salmon. He also sticks clothes pins on guests: French Laundry ones, of course.

Midnight:, Friday: Sasha:After a day of eating and drinking, it was a bit daunting to consider the prospect of a night of eating and drinking, but that, after all, is what this auction is about,  and so, with the prospect looming that by the end of this auction, I may well resemble a wine barrel, I headed off to the second party, the Friday night gathering hosted by Isabel and Michael Mondavi.

More reserved than the Swanson’s swinging “A Little Bit of Creole” the night before, this party took place at the Mondavi’s villa off Silverado Trail, and the star of this night, definitely was the wines.

After a welcoming glass of wine on the terrace, where we admired the view of most of the western world, Michael Mondavi took guests down to his equally admirable wine cellar and where he’d poured rather spectacular wines from his collecting including a 1965 Charles Krug cab, from the last year his dad worked at that winery before launching the Robert Mondavi Winery. Also interesting was a 1969 RM unfined cab, and the 1978 reserved cab. He added in and 1970 Chateau Cheval Blanc as well as one from his own present wine label, M by Michael Mondavi, a 2005.

And all this was before dinner.

Among the guests, by the way, were Cynthia and Bruce Sherman, from New York and Naples, who are chairing the 2011 Naples Wine Auction. They came to get ideas, they said, as well as to support the auction. "Napa has been good to us," Bruce Sherman said, noting that about 30 percent of the vintners at the Florida charity event are from Napa Valley.

Tyler Florence had been enlisted to create the dinner, which included some unusual combinations of ingredients, like his first course, a day-boat scallop on lemon chickpea puree with chorizo and rose yogurt, or his second, asparagus wrapped in speck (Italian ham) with a poached-fried egg, Meyer lemon sabayon, black truffle and sorrel. Dessert was especially creative, a sweet potato cheesecake served in potato skin.

Florence took the occasion to announce that he is working with Mondavi’s Folio Wines to launch his own wine label, with bottling beginning next week. A busy guy, Florence also announced he’s opening a new restaurant in San Francisco next week, with two others to open this year in Napa and Marin.

The wines - one can only say wow, Mondavi outdid himself in sharing - among them, he poured a 1974 Robert Mondavi reserve cab, a 1985 Opus One as well as three cabs from his Animo Vineyard — combined with his stories, it was like drinking history.

11 p.m. Friday — When Auction Napa Valley co-chairs Mary Novak and daughter Beth called for this year’s event to return to the carefree, informal mode of auctions past, the Porter family got the message.

Friday evening, Tom and Bev Porter welcomed two dozen auction guests to their well-manicured wine estate in Green Valley, a tiny microclimate bordering Solano County that produces exceptional red wine grapes.

We gathered on a deck that overlooks Mt. George and Coombsville — and provides stunning views of Napa Valley all the way north to Mount St. Helena — where the Porters poured a refreshing, tantalizing Sandpiper rosé produced from the estate’s syrah.

The Porters’ daughter, Heather, had prepared very tasty treats to pair with the wine — including crostini topped with a smooth, creamy Spanish cheese and strawberry slices. Not only did the crostini pair with the wine, they were esthetically pleasing.

In fact, it was Heather and her husband, Steven Wolfe, who were in charge of the evening’s meal — a delectable spread that showed off Steven’s talents with smoked meats. In addition to heaping platters of smoked ribs and pulled pork, the evening’s grillmeister cooked every guest’s toothsome filet mignon to order.

“Unless you tell Steven what you want, he’ll cook it one of three ways — medium rare, medium rare or medium rare,” quipped his spouse.

Complementing the protein, Heather cooked up a whole mess o’ baked beans, heirloom tomato, white corn and feta salad, roasted asparagus and very tasty sautéed apple slices, harvested from a couple of old trees on the spread. Oh, I almost forgot the great cornbread muffins.

Tom and Bev, along with son Tim — the 2,000 case enterprise’s finance/marketing director — poured their very happy guests glasses of the 2006 Sandpiper (a 50/50 blend of cabernet sauvignon and merlot), the 2006 cabernet sauvignon (a polished red that includes about 12 percent syrah in the blend) and an absolutely classic syrah from the 2007 harvest that shows off all the beauty of this Rhone varietal, ranging from juicy black plums to palate-teasing white pepper.

This down-home, tasty meal was served following an informative tour of the production caves (some 17,000 square feet) carved into a malbec vine-topped hill that abuts the family’s guest suites and offices.

Porter Family Estate, we all learned, is a little bit of wine country heaven we didn’t know existed. We also learned the Porters are great stewards of the land — and if you intend to host a barbecue anytime soon, give Steven Wolfe and his Weber army a call.


12 a.m. Friday — Ominous, dark clouds over Diamond Mountain and Mount St. Helena could in no way dampen the spirits of two dozen celebratory souls gathered Thursday night at the home of Shane and Suzanne Phifer Pavitt on The Trail near Calistoga.

It was as if the sunny disposition of Georgia-born Suzanne was kickin’ the clouds away as the staff of Solage’s Solbar poured wines and passed executive chef Brandon Sharp’s savory canapés poolside.

Ted Osborne, winemaker for the small Phifer Pavitt winegrowing effort, was on hand to talk not only about three vintages of the couple’s “Date Night” cabernet sauvignons but also two of the chardonnays he produces under his own Olabisi brand.

A lush, mouthfilling 2007 Olabisi chardonnay brimming with ripe fruit from the Ceja family’s Carneros vineyard proved a perfect companion for tasty, eye-catching sweet pea gazpacho, crab-topped jicama rounds and caviar sprinkled smoked salmon on buckwheat rolls.

This was but one of several dozen vintner-hosted hospitality events that signaled the opening of the 30th Auction Napa Valley — the granddaddy of all charity wine auctions in the nation.

The Pavitts welcomed guests from down the road as well as across the country — one couple came from a suburban plateau “100 miles due south of St. Louis.”

Threatening skies did prompt the hosts to move dinner under a covered veranda, just in case they found their luck running out.

A four course dinner, prepared and served by Sharp and his agreeable Solbar crew, included such tasty offerings as seared Alaskan sablefish with black garlic, Duroc pork tenderloin and belly with plum mostarda and polenta, plus strip loin of Painted Hills beef paired with toothsome vest-pocket potato agnolotti — the latter dishes complemented by Date Night 2005 and Date Night 2006.

For the real yummy chocolate pot de crème, the Pavitts broke out the yet-to-be released Date Night 2007 — dark, ripe, mysterious, bewitching.

Considering the couple produces but a few hundred cases of these exceptional cabs each harvest, there should be a “sold out” sign on the vintage barn door when the new tasting room opens this summer. But I bet you’ll always be able to enjoy Date Night if you drop in at Solbar. lpc

11:45 p.m. Thursday - Imagine this: A 100-year-old barn lit by candles, a long table filled with peonies, nasturtiums and roses, and glowing with two huge silver candelabra. While two New Orleans chefs, Johnny Blancher and Ryan Hymel were serving - prawns in a secret sauce that could inspire an investigative project to an irresistible "po'boy" bread pudding, the Royal Jazz Society quintet dished out music that wouldn't let guests stay seated, no matter how spectacular the meal.

This was only one of the parties hosted by vintners around the valley Thursday to welcome guests to Auction Napa Valley 2010 . This New Orleans style barn bash was hosted by Clark and Elizabeth Swanson at the Oakville home - she hails from the Big Easy bringing with her all the matchless exuberant spirit of that dauntless city.

Highlights? It might have been when Elizabeth Swanson, Margrit Mondavi and brilliant artist Ira Yeager crooned along with the band to "It Had to be You." Or when 90-year-old Matthew Kelly joined in for "Making Whoopie." He knew all the lyrics.

I found myself sitting between Becky and Jack Harris from New Orleans and Boca Raton, first-tme Wine Auction attendees (and great dancers), and Luella and Roy Verstraete from Grosse Pointe, Michigan. Roy said they'd sat out last year's auction but this year business has so picked up, he's been able to rehire everyone he'd had to lay off. "We're back," Roy said, relishing his Swanson merlot. " I'm going to tell my friends I had my dinner in a barn and it was the best!"

Despite worries about what's in store for New Orleans next, everyone was in the mood to dance. Even reporters. -- Sasha

5 p.m. Thursday - Sasha Paulsen and L. Pierce Carson of the Napa Valley Register are off to separate kickoff events for the 2010 Auction Napa Valley. Check back later tonight and all through the weekend for tidbits about what they see, who they see, what they taste and what they enjoy about Auction Napa Valley weekend.

(1) comment


Auction Napa Valley?

Is Napa Valley bankrupt?

Is it being auctioned off?

Yes? No?

Oh, you mean the Napa Valley Wine Auction...

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