I know, every year I write that this year’s Auction Napa Valley was the best ever and could not possibly be improved on; yet every year, I am proved wrong. But, still I’ll say it again: Auction Napa Valley 2014 was spectacular in every way, from the opening venue at Charles Krug Winery and the colorful Avenue of Banners to greet the guests to the gaily-decorated, huge tent on the green at the Meadowood Resort where the live auction was held; it could not be improved.

The idea of an auction was hatched in 1981 in a conversation between Bay Area socialite Pat Montandon and Robert Mondavi at an Oakville eatery where the question was asked, “Why can’t Napa Valley have an auction to serve the valley’s charity needs, similar to Burgundy’s Hospices de Beaune, whose proceeds serve the charity needs of its community?”

They approached the Napa Valley Vintners with the idea and so Auction Napa Valley was born. The first auction was in 1981, and the total raised was $140,000. The highest bid was $24,000 for a case of Opus One! This year, the auction raised $18 million, bringing the total revenues since the first auction to $120 million, which, after expenses, will be dispersed to charities and not-for-profit organizations in Napa Valley.

On a personal note, a number of years ago when I was involved in a serious auto accident, much of my recovery was spent in an intensive care room at the Queen of the Valley Medical Center in Napa. The room had a brass plate on the wall outside the door that read, “This room was made possible by funds from the Napa Valley Vintners.” I joined others in our valley who have benefited from the Auction Napa Valley’s proceeds.

Crazy big bucks: While we are on the subject of money, Penfolds, the huge Australian wine company, decided to produce the most expensive wine in the world (excluding old bottles that have been sold at auctions). The wine that it produced is the 2004 Penfold Kalma Vineyard, Block 42, Cabernet Sauvignon. The wine was “bottled” in glass ampoules. Because of the labor involved, only 12 were made. The price, in case you’d like to add a few to your cellar, is $165,000 each, Are they worth it? Buy one and let me know. Better yet, buy one and send it to me. I’ll let you know.

Culinary Magic: Recently, the Robert Mondavi Winery added a new attraction at its Oakville winery. On June 10, Margrit Mondavi hosted an intimate dinner party to celebrate the inauguration of the Piccolo To Kalon Garden, which is “exclusively devoted to the culinary arts.” The garden has been expanded by chef Jeff Mosher and his team with plantings of almost two dozen herbs, more than two dozen vegetables, almost a dozen edible flowers and a riot of fruit bushes and trees. The ingredients of the garden are part of the dishes that have brought the winery its culinary fame.

Government Wisdom: The FDA recently issued a ruling that cheese-makers may not age their cheeses on wooden racks because they are impossible to clean and sanitize adequately. The ruling could spell disaster to cheese-makers who claim that wooden racks absorb high moisture, prevent mold growth and in some cases add to the flavor of the cheeses. This reminds me of the FDA ruling a few years ago that ducks could not be hung in the windows of markets in San Francisco’s Chinatown because of possible sanitation problems. The Chinese responded that the FDA argument may be valid, but the practice has been going on for more than a thousand years, and no bodies litter the streets in China. I think I recall that Gov. Jerry Brown took the side of the merchants, and now ducks still hang in the windows in Chinatown.

New in the valley: We enjoyed a Father’s Day dinner at the recently opened restaurant, the Farmer and the Fox in the Cairdean Estate complex in north St. Helena. This handsomely appointed restaurant with executive chef Joseph Humphrey promises to be another star in the Napa Valley culinary constellation.

Caboose item: A James Thurber quote:

“Early to bed,

Early to rise,

Makes a man healthy, wealthy

And dead.”

He might have said,

“Makes a man healthy, wealthy,

Dull and dead.”

If you have an item that you think would be of interest to this column’s readers, email it to wineroads@yahoo.com or call me at 707-942-0733. I would love to hear from you.


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