Many Napa County residents are aware of the Napa Valley Vintners’ (NVV) annual charity event, Auction Napa Valley, which takes place in June and helps fund community health and children’s education nonprofits. For more than 20 years, the NVV has also hosted another annual auction, Premiere Napa Valley, which has an entirely different audience and fundraising goals.

What is Premiere Napa Valley?

In the mid-1990s, NVV was looking for a way to convey a message of quality winemaking to members of the wine trade, hoping to reinvigorate their interest in Napa Valley and its wines. At the same time, the nonprofit association was seeking a means to augment member dues to fund new initiatives to promote and protect the Napa Valley.

Although NVV had dedicated itself for many years to raising money to support local nonprofits, it had never organized a fundraiser of its own. So, NVV leaders assembled a committee of their fellow vintners and together they conceived Premiere Napa Valley, a mid-winter barrel auction for the trade.Who attends Premiere Napa Valley?

Licensed members of the trade such as restaurateurs, retail store owners, wine distributors, private club managers and hoteliers can attend. Unlike Auction Napa Valley, which is attended primarily by wine lovers and wine collectors, Premiere Napa Valley is an event just for wine professionals. Its focus is on the business of wine and fostering strong relationships between the people who make Napa Valley wine and the people who buy those wines to resell to their customers.

What wines are offered at the auction?

To meet the NVV’s original goal of creating excitement about Napa Valley wines, the offerings at Premiere must be unique and limited. Napa Valley winemakers create special wines just for this auction, which must be different than their current release wines.

For example, a producer known for making Chardonnay might make a Cabernet Sauvignon just for Premiere, or the wine might be composed of a special blend of grapes or aged under a unique barrel protocol the winery doesn’t normally use. Anything goes, as long as the wine is a one-of-a-kind Napa Valley selection. To make the wines even more enticing, they are produced in lots as small as just 60 bottles and never more than 240 bottles, or about the size of one barrel of wine.

How does it work?

The barrel tasting and auction take place the fourth Saturday in February at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. The week leading up to this main event is filled with wine tastings and educational seminars where local vintners have the chance to meet and do business with members of the wine trade arriving from around the world.

When the big day arrives on Saturday, the trade attendees get to try barrel samples of the wines in the morning to decide which ones they may want to bid on. In the afternoon, all the wines are sold at the auction. If a wine merchant purchases one of the lots, they become the sole owner of that lot. This has become an important way for wine purveyors to differentiate themselves from their competitors – if a wine collector wants to buy that particular wine, there’s only one place they’ll be able to get it.

Where does the money go?

Proceeds from Premiere Napa Valley support the NVV’s mission to promote, protect and enhance the Napa Valley. Premiere has helped NVV to fund programs like Napa Green, Napa Neighbor and its Wine List Awards for local restaurants; to secure protection for the Napa Valley name around the world; and for wine education for members of the trade and consumers, to name a few of the initiatives supported by Premiere.

What does Premiere Napa Valley do for our community?

Unlike Auction Napa Valley, which provides direct financial support for Napa County nonprofits, Premiere Napa Valley benefits our community in different ways. It supports the local wine industry by creating interest in and excitement for Napa Valley wines. This helps the industry thrive and grow, providing 46,000 local jobs, more than $660 billion in local and state tax revenues and creating a local economic impact of more than $13 billion.

Premiere also has a direct effect on local businesses. The event takes place during a typically slow time of year, bringing hundreds of out-of-town guests to Napa Valley who stay at local hotels, dine at local restaurants, shop at local stores, hire local drivers and attend private events catered by local chefs.

Premiere Napa Valley creates a win-win-win for Napa Valley and members of the wine trade by supporting the local wine industry, supporting the local community and fostering strong relationships with wine professionals from around the world. More information is available at premierenapavalley.com.

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Ask the Vintners is a monthly column written by the Napa Valley Vintners nonprofit association. Submit your questions to ask@napavintners.com and learn more at napavintners.com.