Premiere Napa Valley

Oklahoma resident Megan Richard, daughter of J.P. Richard, who owns an Oklahoma wine retailer, paid $16,500 for the 2011 Tournesol Cabernet Sauvignon during the 2013 Premiere Napa Valley. Star file photo

This week is Premiere Napa Valley, and hundreds of wine professionals from around the world have converged in the valley to attend the annual grand tasting and futures auction to be held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone.

Napa Valley Vintners and its 490-member wineries have partnered to create this weeklong event, which includes a Saturday afternoon auction of 225 of the rarest wines in the industry.

What makes the event so unique, according to Patsy McGaughy, communications director at NVV, is the creativity that is unleashed in the production of the handmade wines. “These wines, each created only once by the individual wineries, are offered as futures — at the auction — only to individual restaurateurs and wine retailers so they can offer the most unique and rarest wines made from America’s leading appellation to their most discerning customers,” she said. And “rarity” is the operative word because these wines will be auctioned in lots no smaller than 60 bottles and no larger than 240.

“Each of the winemakers is on his or her own,” McGaughy said. And the only criteria to qualify for the brand label of “Premiere Napa Valley” is that the wine must be uniquely different from the winery’s commercial release, and must be of the highest quality. It’s this flexibility, McGaughy said, that permits the winemakers to really push the envelope.

This is the 18th year of the event that was created to be an educational and promotional fundraiser for the Napa Valley Vintners. It’s the mission of the NVV to advance and protect the Napa Valley appellation. By restricting the auction to wine merchants and wine retailers, it allows these professionals to better familiarize themselves with the creative possibilities of Napa Valley wines. But, according to McGaughy, it also allows them to directly interact with the winemakers themselves and to build important relationships.

Finally, because each wine from each producer is one-of-a-kind and will not be found in the market except from the wine seller who secures the unique wine via the annual auction, Premiere Napa Valley essentially “supercharges” the market for the best and the rarest of Napa Valley wines.

According to McGaughy, the event is reminiscent of how Hospice de Beaune wines are produced, though the process is uniquely American. The winemakers take a gloves-off approach, according to McGaughy, often using varieties they may not bottle as a stand-alone. Or, for instance, a wine producer — noted for producing whites-only — may use the Premiere Napa Valley event to produce a lot of unique red wine from a special vineyard, produced by hand, that could never be produced commercially. That’s what makes these wines so innovative, McGaughy said. It showcases the region’s sense of explorations in fine winemaking.

The proceeds of the event help to fund the NVV’s many community and industry efforts. Last year, the event raised $3.07 million. The top lot of 120 bottles was $75,000 for a cabernet blend from Bevan Cellars and Chateau Boswell Winery. Other top lots were $50,000 for the Reynolds Family Winery and Shafer lots, $45,000 for 120 bottles of Robert Keenan Winery at $375 and $40,000 for 60 bottles of Kapcsandy Family Winery and $40,000 for 240 bottles of Rombauer Vineyards.

Winery tasting events will be held Thursday and Friday throughout the valley and the event will conclude Saturday, Feb. 22, with a barrel tasting at 9:30 a.m. and the live auction beginning at 1 p.m. at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, 2555 Main St. in St. Helena.

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