ST. HELENA — For the second year in a row, the Napa Valley Vintners’ Premiere Napa Valley futures wine auction broke a record, raising $6 million on Saturday afternoon.
The bidding was spirited as more than 700 trade and media guests crowded into an upstairs room at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Near the end of the afternoon auction, one bidder yelled out a preemptive bid of $100,000 for a five-case lot of Chateau Boswell Winery’s 2013 cabernet sauvignon from Oakville.
It was the only bid received and as auctioneer Fritz Hatton slammed down the hammer, the crowd cheered and the NVV employees, who were keeping track of the bidders numbers and the dollar amount raised, started clapping. Auctioneers Hatton and David Elswood sold 225 lots of unique Napa Valley wine, although 92 percent of those lots were from the 2013 vintage and 175 were cabernet sauvignon. In fact, the top 10 lots were all 2013 cabernets and bidders paid $865,000 for them.
Last year, the auction raised nearly $5.9 million, shattering the prior year’s receipts of $3 million. The auction, open only for the retail trade and wholesalers, was first held in 1997, when it raised $412,000.
On Saturday afternoon, Elswood sold the top lot of the auction, a five-case lot of 2013 Brand Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon for $115,000. The bidding for the wine quickly went to $24,000 and then to $60,000 and $80,000. As it neared and passed the $100,000 mark, those in the audience cheered and clapped. Elswood slammed down his hammer at $115,000, to more cheering. He quickly went on to the next lot, a sparkling wine from Domaine Chandon that sold for $12,000.
The keys to having a top lot in the auction were either having a well-known winemaker, like Philippe Melka or Thomas Rivers Brown; sourcing fruit from historic vineyards, including To Kalon in Oakville, Dr. Crane or Stice Vineyards in St. Helena; or being a winery that is well established and grows estate fruit, such as Shafer Vineyards, Rombauer Vineyards or Silver Oak Cellars. For the past 31 years, the winemaker for Shafer has been Elias Fernandez, while Daniel Baron has been winemaker at Silver Oak for the past 21 years.
Melka also made other top lots at the auction, including the 2013 cabernet sauvignon made from St. Helena grapes for Fairchild Napa Valley. Its five cases sold for $100,000 and will be released in April 2016. According to the Napa Valley Vintners’ auction book that lists all 225 lots, Melka had a hand in making eight of the lots, while Rivers Brown is listed as making or consulting on five lots for different wineries.
The bidders were from all over the United States. Contingents were from 30 states, including California, Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Jersey; and from eight countries, including Japan, and Puerto Rico. Many of those attending have been coming to the trade auction for many years and some since it began 19 years ago. From Oklahoma were V.J. Jazirvar and J.P. Richard, who showed the different styles of bidding. Jazirvar often yelled out a fairly high bid to start and most of the time he dropped off as the bidding got heated. Richard, on the other hand, lifted his paddle and kept it up throughout the bidding, as did Durrell Smith from Los Angeles’ Beverage Warehouse. Both won a couple of lots that way.
Most of the lots started at $5,000 or $10,000, although the Continuum lot -- five cases of proprietary red blend -- made from the 2013 vintage, started at $50,000 and ended at $70,000, after almost selling at $65,000. Continuum is owned by Tim Mondavi and his family.
As both Hatton and Elswood auctioned off the lots, the spotters, including Sauna Jones, would yell out, “Yes, yes, yes” over and over again in rapid fire, until the lot sold.
Hatton especially cajoled the bidders, telling a group from Arkansas, “C’mon, give me a big-boy bid,” and as the Boeschen lot stalled at $12,000, he asked the bidders, “Who wants to put more motion into Boeschen?” No one took him up on it and the lot sold for $12,000.
At the beginning of the auction, at 1 p.m., every seat was taken and the room was packed. Later on, the crowd thinned out and gathered at the back, or left altogether, having bid on their favorites and either won or lost.
Elswood’s last lot was five cases of 2013 cabernet sauvignon produced by Pride Mountain Vineyards. It started at $5,000, then the bidders doubled it at $10,000 and doubled it again, landing at $25,000. As the bidding ended at $35,000 the crowd cheered, thanking Elswood for his efforts and the bidders for spending their money.
The last lot of the trade auction was a 2013 cabernet sauvignon produced by Jeff Morgan for Peter Paul Wines, LLC. Hatton asked for $10,000, got it, then asked for $12,000, although the bid he received was for $11,000. As the lot sold for $15,000, there was clapping heard all around and he said, “Thank you very much ladies and gentlemen. See you next year.”