ST. HELENA — At Auction Napa Valley, the wine flows as quickly as the cash. With individual bids in the hundreds of thousands, this elite fundraiser is as much about compassion as it is confetti and cowbells.
Big bidders and their fashionable guests, many wearing white sundresses and big hats, were welcomed to the luxurious landscape of Meadowood Napa Valley on Saturday by volunteers in canvas and denim aprons, ready to distribute souvenir canvas bags, paddles and wine glasses.
Last year’s event raised $15.7 million for local nonprofits. But in case the alcohol wasn’t enough to open pockets, displays in the walkway reminded guests what exactly their money could do.
“30,000 could provide dental exams and cleanings for 225 children,” read one sign, which also included a photo of two girls smiling and running.
After strolling through displays of the 32 live lots advertising things like all-inclusive trips, cruises, winery tours and concerts, bidders were serenaded to the auction area. Once inside and out of the 95-plus degree heat, guests took to their seats and prepared to raise their paddles.
It was up to auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski to convince the crowd to bid on the first lot – the “Chair’s Lot.”
“You will see the United Arab Emirates like nobody else gets to see it,” Hermacinski said. The trip, which sold for more than $200,000, included sight-seeing as well as hanging out with local royalty and enjoying beach polo.
“Keep bidding,” she prodded. “It’s luxury all the way.”
Hermacinski took turns auctioneering with Humphrey Butler. They worked together to keep the bids coming in and, once a winner was announced, they were given the royal treatment – blasts of confetti, another wine pour and auction paparazzi taking their photos.
The first single lot to break $1 million was Lot 20 – "The Ultimate U.S. Open Pebble Beach Experience."
The lot offering included 18 bottles of wine, first class, round trip airfare to Monterey or San Francisco, seven nights’ accommodations for two in a luxury hotel, VIP tickets to the U.S. Open, and two golf outings for four at two Pebble Beach championship courses, among other things.
But it wasn’t all about the bidding. Notables of Napa Valley who have died were also honored. Koerner Rombauer, the founder of Rombauer Vineyards, who died last month, was celebrated with a toast.
Proceeds from Auction Napa Valley, which began in 1981, benefit community health and children’s education programs and aids dozens of separate nonprofit groups in Napa County.
This year’s total proceeds were not yet available as of 5:30 p.m. Saturday, as bidding continued into the night followed by dinner, dessert and an after-party.