ST. HELENA — Several thousand people attended Friday’s Barrel Auction as part of Auction Napa Valley at St. Helena’s restored historic Louis M. Martini Winery.
The event included 114 Napa Valley wineries pouring barrel samples, mostly of Cabernet Sauvignon wines, and guests bidding on those cases; personnel from 80 wineries pouring everything from Sauvignon Blanc and Rosés to red blends and Cabernet Sauvignons; 24 restaurants serving delicious bites to pair with those wines; and three food purveyors pouring coffee and serving desserts.
This year’s Auction Napa Valley celebrates the founding of the Napa Valley Vintners 75 years ago in October 1944.
On Friday afternoon, a half-hour before the barrel auction ended, individual bids for cases of 2017 Cain Five, an estate grown and bottled wine from Spring Mountain’s Cain Vineyard & Winery, ranged from $900 to $2,050. (Ten bidders were each to receive a case.) The wine will be released in November 2021.
Bids at 2:30 p.m. for a case of 2017 15th Anniversary Cuvee from Blackbird Vineyards ranged from $1,850 to $2,300.
Another 2017 red blend, from Oakville’s Far Niente Winery, was made with 90 percent Cabernet Sauvignon and 10 percent Petite Verdot, from grapes grown on the winery’s estate vineyard. Bids ranged from $2,000 to $2,450 per case, a half-hour before the bidding closed.
Chris Phelps, Napa Valley winemaker since 1984, now makes wine for Inglenook. On Friday, Inglenook didn’t have a barrel auction lot, so he was able to enjoy the wines and what he called “the most beautiful day of the year so far,” with a “perfect temperature.”
“There’s a surprising number of 2018s here,” he said, standing outside one of two cellars where the barrel auctions were taking place. “Some people have chosen not to feature the 2017s, which may or may not have been impacted by smoke, but the ‘17s that are represented are really good.”
The Napa Valley Vintners have estimated that 90 percent of the grapes were harvested by the time the fires hit on Oct. 8, 2017.
“I hope people are paying close attention to the ‘17s,” Phelps said. “You cannot write off a vintage because the wines are affected by the smoke. It is so easy in the media, even just in conversation, to whitewash a vintage: ‘it was too hot; it was smoky; it rained.’ I think every vintage needs to be picked apart and carefully looked at.”
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He noted it was ironic that the barrel auction was held at Martini Winery because he spent his first crush there in 1980. “I saw Carolyn Martini here earlier and I said it’s nice to see a Martini standing on this property, because she was here in 1980,” he said.
Carolyn Martini was sitting down in the shade, shortly after noon. “I am absolutely amazed at how gorgeous this facility is, how well it is adapting to this event,” she said. “What a way to show it off.”
Louis M. Martini built his winery in 1933 and the Martini family sold it to E&J Gallo Winery in 2002. A decade ago, the Gallos hired architects Howard Backen and John Taft to restore the space. The renovated space opened in March.
Gina Gallo, vice president of estate winemaking for Gallo, is also Julio’s granddaughter and a Napa resident. She joined a large crowd in one of the two barrel rooms.
She has attended the barrel auction many times, and on Friday she said the energy in the room was amazing.
“My family is here, my fellow vintners are all together here, and we gather to help the community, which is what I love,” Gallo said. She added it’s not easy to participate in the barrel auction, because “it takes a lot of work from a lot of people and it’s very stressful,” she said. “Today, when we’re all done, we let go a little bit.”
Chateau Montelena winemaker Matt Crafton of Calistoga is offering a live lot on Saturday – the first live lot they’ve ever done. “It’s a wonderful lot and it is unique, because it is all about here and all about Calistoga,” he said.
The lot offers the winning bidder access to Chateau Montelena, including Crafton, Bo Barrett, one of the winery’s owners, and to the winery’s library.
He added, “I don’t think anyone can offer you anything close to that. It’s something I don’t think we’ll ever offer again, so bid on it.”