ST. HELENA — The 2014 Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Auction raised $5.9 million during 4 1/2 hours of spirited bidding Saturday afternoon. Last year, the event, open only to the wine trade, raised $3.04 million.
The top lot of the afternoon was five cases of 2012 cabernet sauvignon from Scarecrow Wine. Glen Knight from Los Angeles’ the Wine House paid $260,000, or more than $4,300 per bottle, for the lot.
Auctioneer Ursula Hermacinski asked for a starting bid and VJ Jazirvar, executive vice president of the Petroleum Club from Oklahoma, shouted out $75,000. It quickly reached $100,000 and then Jazirvar bid $110,000. As the bidding reached $150,000 for the lot, Jazirvar dropped out and the crowd cheered as the bid went past $170,000 and then $200,000.
At one point, the bidding stalled and Hermacinski cajoled a bidder to bid again: “C’mon Japan, this is enough Scarecrow for your whole country.” As Knight won the bid, nearly all of the audience was standing, cheering and applauding.
Knight spent an estimated $364,000 on five wine lots.
After the auction, Hugh Davies, chairman of the 2014 event, said the auction results validated the 2012 vintage in the Napa Valley as 202 of the 225 lots were from 2012. All but seven of the wines sold at the barrel auction were red wines and most, 152, were cabernet sauvignon from 2012.
“There was a lot of love in the room,” Davies said. “People were buying Napa Valley wine with an enthusiasm that we’ve never seen before. It was a special day and we want to bask in it a while.” Davies, president of Schramsberg Vineyards, was one of two producers who brought sparkling wines to the futures auction. Most of the wines sold won’t be released until later this year, but the bidders spent Saturday morning tasting the wines as barrel samples.
Davies said the success of the event also reflects on the Napa Valley’s current group of workers and on the decades of hard work put in by those who have grown grapes and made and sold wine in the past.
Napa’s Bounty Hunter group was active in bidding and buying wines, spending nearly half a million dollars for 13 lots. The group spent $235,000 on three lots of 2012 cabernet sauvignon produced by Schrader, Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Odette Estate Winery.
The Bounty Hunter’s Rhett Gadke said the company knows what it is doing when it buys futures of 2012 cabernets. Even though the group spent $100,000 on the Schrader cab, it will be able to sell it for more than it paid. He said the group’s buying decisions were also influenced by the great quality of the 2012 vintage.
The top spender of the auction was a national wine retailer, Total Wine & More, which has stores in 15 states. Its members, including Christina Pearce, who was holding the paddle with No. 1 on it, spent slightly more than $750,000 on 27 lots during the auction.
As he has done in the past, St. Helenan Fritz Hatton shared the stage with Hermacinski. At one point he was whispering and it seemed few could hear him. He was auctioning off 60 bottles of Roy Estate, 2012 cabernet sauvignon that was named “Voix Basse,” or “whisper.” As the bid reached $25,000, he spoke up and nearly dropped the hammer on the lot.
Then the auction spotters found another bidder and many in the crowd complained, including Jazirvar, who told Hatton the wine had been sold. He then told Hatton to “throw the hammer away.” Hatton did so, but added, “I’m still in charge.”
He sold the lot for $32,000.
Premiere Napa Valley, sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners, has been held for the past 17 years. In 2012 bidders spent $3.1 million on the unique blends of Napa Valley wines. The first year it was held, 1997, the barrel auction raised $412,000.