ST. HELENA — Auctioneers Fritz Hatton and Humphrey Butler had to stop the Napa Valley Wine Auction Saturday afternoon for a horse race.
The crowd of nearly 1,000 people in the auction tent were in rapt attention while the Belmont Stakes from Long Island were shown on the three big screens at the front of the room. While the race was on, few were talking, and all watching the racing horses. There was a loud cheer as California Chrome gained fourth place, and a huge disappointment at the events thousands of miles away. He ended not winning the Triple Crown but in fourth place.
No matter, Hatton said after the race ended, “OK, let’s get back to work.”
And work they did. The preliminary results of Saturday’s live auction, held at Meadowood Napa Valley Resort, were an estimated record $18.4 million. Last year’s previous record figure was $13.89 million.
The final amount raised during the three-day event will be released later Sunday, when bidding for the 175 lots that were part of the E-Auction ends. According to the Napa Valley Vintners, Friday’s Napa Valley Barrel Auction of 100 barrels of mostly 2012 cabernet sauvignon raised a record $1.694 million, which is 10 percent more than last year’s amount raised.
Hatton and Butler split selling the lots during the afternoon. The two worked hard to kick the bids up, but it was clear the audience was interested in spending money for rare Napa Valley wines and experiences all over the world.
Two of the lots that raised the most money were sold one right after the other. Carmen Policy, former president and CEO of the San Francisco 49eers and currently the owner of Casa Piena, will host experiences in Napa Valley and in San Francisco, the site of Super Bowl 50, to be held in February 2016. Humphrey got the bidding quickly to $160,000 and then the bids were up to $240,000, and then $300,000. At $380,000, Humphrey told the bidder, “You are going to lose this Madam.” She bid $400,000 and the lot sold for $420,000, bringing the auction total at that point to $7 million.
The next lot was not about an experience or a trip to an exotic locale, but about the promise of a wine that’s not yet released, but will likely be one of the Napa Valley’s top cabernet sauvignons.
Bill Harlan, owner of Meadowood, Bond and Harlan Estate, bought a piece of property seven years ago and started making cabernet for his Promontory property in 2009. The inaugural release of his cabernets will be released in the fall. The winning bidder for the lot, Lee Anderson, paid $600,000 to be the first customer, receiving the first case of wine produced, five double magnums from 2009 to 2013 and a dozen other releases from 2009 to 2018. Auctioneer Butler told the crowd that Harlan’s new project represented the last frontier and next generation of winemaking. “You want to be on board,” he said.
The $30,000 bid asked was quickly met and the bids went quickly to $180,000, then $240,000, then $300,000 before crashing through the $400,000 and $500,000 levels. There were cheers from the crowd at $520,000 and Butler asked, as he had repeatedly during the afternoon, “Are we done here?” Obviously not.
The Colgin Cellars lot also generated a lot of interest, as it has in years past. It included Colgin red wines from Tychson Hill and the rest of the Napa Valley. It also included dinner at the exclusive French Laundry for 50. After explaining the lot, Butler exclaimed, “If you don’t start at $50,000, I will lay down on stage and die.” There was no chance of that as the bid started at $60,000 and quickly went to$200,000. At $240,000, Butler told one of the bidders “Easy Tiger.” At $300,000, he told one of the bidders, “I feel we are just getting started.” He earned an additional $340,000 and told the crowd he had deep regret at putting the hammer down, “because this is a $1 million lot.”
At least two of the lots were doubled during the auction; that is, there were more than one bidder wanting the lots. Early in the auction, Jean-Charles Boisset, owner of Raymond Vineyards, offered “A Year of Hollywood Glamour,” which included trips to Hollywood and a variety of big-bottle Napa Valley wines. Although auctioneer Fritz Hatton started at $20,000, it quickly went to $100,000 and he made the last call at $360,000. Then it was up to $380,000 and broke $400,000. At $420,000, there were two bidders and Boisset offered two trips, each for $420,000. The lot raised $840,000.
The 43rd out of 50 lots was also doubled as bidders paid $290,000 each for a total of $580,000 for four cases of Napa Valley wine, four customized Pinarello bicycles, a cycling adventure in the Great Smoky Mountains and other hospitality.
One of the more unusual lots was one offering the services of famed Napa Valley architect Howard Backen to redesign one’s home or winery. Hatton bragged about Backen, saying he had designed the Pearly Gates. When the bidding reached $140,000, he told the crowd of nearly 1,000 people the lot was “one of a lifetime” and added, “it’s not going to offered again.” It sold for $240,000.