Since the Napa Valley Vintners began Auction Napa Valley in 1981, it has become a world-class event, raising $110 million for various nonprofits throughout the Napa Valley.

But when Linda Reiff took over the reins of the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) as executive director nearly 18 years ago, there was a problem. The trade association was raising and giving away millions of dollars, yet it was operating in the red. The group’s board of directors worked with Reiff to develop a “sustainable source of funding for ourselves,” Reiff said during an editorial board meeting on Friday.

The NVV created its own auction, Premiere Napa Valley, to raise money for its programs and activities, which are considerable; and to save money for “its own home.” It was ironic that since its founding in 1944, the organization was giving away millions to nonprofits so these could “own their own homes” while the NVV itself was still paying rent to a landlord. So the NVV started saving money, and a few years ago, bought and renovated the old Jackse Winery on Library Lane.

This year’s three-day Premiere begins today with events throughout the valley.

Premiere Napa Valley is now a considerable success. It has allowed the NVV to expand its activities and programs, and it now provides half of the organization’s annual $4.5 million budget. The other half is from the dues of its 450 members — dues that have remained the same since 1994.

The growth of the Napa Valley Vintners has been considerable. Since 1995, its membership has grown from 100 to 450; its employees have grown from nine to 25; its trade shows, for which NVV members travel to other parts of the world, have grown from three to 100.

The organization has three goals: to position Napa Valley as the premier wine region in the world, to champion and sustain Napa Valley’s wine community, and to engage and support NVV members through work. The organization measures its success by reaching those goals and last year, after five years of effort, the Napa Valley was the first region in the world to earn Geographic Indication status in China. This means if there is a bogus “Nappa Vallee” wine produced, distributed and sold in China that is not from the Napa Valley, the government will step in and stop the wine from being produced.

According to a recent study, “Economic Impact of Napa County’s Wine and Grapes,” the Napa wine industry is significant to the county, state and country. The study shows that the wine industry has a $13 billion annual economic impact in Napa County, $26 billion in the state and $50 billion in the nation. Wine-related tourism generates more than $1 billion annually and the wine industry provides 46,000 full-time equivalent jobs in Napa County. Another key finding is that the wine industry generates nearly $1.3 billion in local, state and federal taxes each year.

Reiff considers the protection of the “Napa” name vital. If it is not protected, then it’s possible the value of the Napa Valley wine industry could decrease. And, if the value decreases, “in all honesty it would eventually threaten the Ag Preserve,” she said. Taking that logic further, if growing grapes and making wines are not financially viable, then there will be other pressures to do something else with the land.

“Everything we do to market and promote and educate and protect that Napa Valley wine and the promise of quality goes back to protecting the name,” Reiff said.

Over the years, Premiere Napa Valley has evolved into a nearly week-long trade show. Some 700 wine retailers, restaurateurs and distributors are in the Napa Valley, making connections with their customers, the Napa Valley growers and vintners. It has become an annual “homecoming” where people from throughout the world — Canada, China, Japan, the U.K., Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Mexico and Taiwan — come to the Napa Valley to learn about our wines. Americans from 35 states also are attending, including those from Texas, New York, New Jersey and Illinois, in addition to California.

One of those is Melissa Devore, vice president of Domestic Wine Buying and Pricing at Total Wine & More, headquartered in Potomac, Md. It is the nation’s largest independent retailer of fine wine with 89 stores in 15 states.

Devore said the chain has more than 800 wine professionals in its stores and the company sells some 200,000 cases of Napa Valley wine a year. A large portion is above the $50 retail price point. Premiere Napa Valley is “a great opportunity to connect with the winemakers of the Napa Valley and to bring our customers a unique offering that enables them to learn more about Napa,” she said.

The event allows Devore and others to connect with more than 200 suppliers and to sample and purchase one-of-a-kind lots.

“Our customers have really taken to these items,” she said, “and we are excited to be able to provide them with these wines that truly express what the Napa Valley is all about.”

In addition to networking events and parties today and Friday, the main event of Premiere Napa Valley is a barrel tasting of 210 unique lots Saturday morning. In the afternoon, Fritz Hatton and Ursula Hermacinski will auction off these lots to the highest bidder. Last year the auction raised $3.1 million and the top lot sold for $70,000. The year before, the auction raised $2.4 million.

Of the 210 lots, some 150 are cabernet sauvignon, which is what the Napa Valley is known for, but all are unique, made in small amounts — from five cases to 60 cases — and are somewhat different than what the winery usually makes. A winemaker, for example, could make a cabernet sauvignon after being known for making chardonnays for years, or could make a cabernet sauvignon with grapes from a unique vineyard.

The mission of the Napa Valley Vintners is “to promote, protect and enhance the Napa Valley appellation, our wines, vintners and community.”


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