You could’ve bowled me and hundreds more over with proverbial feathers near the close of last weekend’s Auction Napa Valley.
Auctioneer Fritz Hatton was busy soliciting bids from auction attendees for the all important Fund-A-Need lot, one that allows paddle holders to donate money to local health care and children’s educational efforts without the promise of glamorous trips, events or rare wine. It’s an opportunity to do good, with donated monies helping maintain a healthy local workforce, guarantee health care for all Napa Valley children and underwrite educational programs that benefit our youth.
Hatton told the assembly — at least a thousand strong — that there was a chance the 34th annual auction could establish a new revenue record if bidders could find it in their hearts to pledge $2.3 million. Cautiously, he asked if any of the business executives, startup wonders, philanthropists or just plain wealthy auctiongoers would be willing to donate $1 million. Seeing no takers, he set the next donation level at $500,000. Two paddles were raised.
There was an anonymous pledge of $250,000, followed by one more bidder agreeing to give a like amount. Local vintners Ron and Teri Kuhn and Rick Jones offered to contribute $200,000 each. As Hatton was busy soliciting bids at the $100,000 level, Rob Mondavi was observed chatting up auction staffers and then conferring with Napa Valley Vintners Executive Director Linda Reiff. Mondavi — named by parents Isabel and Michael for his grandfather — beckoned to a gentleman in a white suit to join him on the stage in the huge white tent on the Meadowood fairway.
The auctioneer paused in an effort to sort out the flurry of activity behind him on stage. Then the man in the white suit was introduced. Kieu Hoang revealed he was the newest member of the Napa Valley winemakers community, having purchased a few days earlier the Carneros vineyards and winery owned by the Michael Mondavi family. He told the crowd — all ears by now — how much he appreciated the welcome he’d received from members of the sponsoring Napa Valley Vintners and how he believed in the philosophy of sharing the local wine industry embodied.
Declaring “I love this business,” Hoang held up his bidder’s paddle and stunned the crowd by pledging $1 million to the Fund-A-Need effort. Caught off guard by the newcomer’s generosity, the crowd cheered and applauded Hoang as festive streamers filled the air. Celebratory music played and handshakes as well as pats on the back were the order of the moment.
An American citizen, Hoang resides in Los Angeles and is respected for his philanthropy. Earlier this year, the 69-year-old businessman debuted on the 2014 Forbes Billionaires List as owner of 37 percent of plasma supplier Shanghai RAAS Blood Projects.
Asked if he knew what Hoang was up to when he chatted with auction officials, Mondavi said he understood the valley newcomer wanted to contribute to Fund-A-Need but had no idea the intent was a $1 million gift. Even the usually self-assured Rob Mondavi appeared a bit shell-shocked by it all. Nevertheless, he and just about everyone in the place was wearing a Cheshire grin.
Kieu Hoang made a lasting impression.
But Hoang’s donation to Fund-A-Need was but one of many generous deeds associated with Auction Napa Valley 2014.
For example, a whole slew of the valley’s hard-working chefs stepped up to the plate, starting with Meadowood Resort chef Christopher Kostow and his team. They harvested wonderful produce from restaurant gardens and bartered with local purveyors so they could prepare a truly locavore dinner served at the auction’s conclusion. Chefs Stephen Barber, Michael Chiarello, Curtis Di Fede, Dave Cruz, Jude Wilmoth, Thomas Keller, Hiro Sone, Lissa Doumani, Richard Reddington, Brandon Sharp and the Cindy Pawlcyn team served up a marvelous Napa Valley lunch before bidding began. Chocolatiers Tracy Wood Anderson, Chris Kollar and Wendy Sherwood salved the sweet tooth.
Smooth jazz superstars Brian Culbertson and Michael Lington showed up to play both before and after the auction.
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And hundreds of volunteers spent countless hours prior to and during the annual charity event to make sure all who attended had the best experience ever, so that, hopefully, they would open their wallets so the less fortunate in the valley — especially the children — could receive health care and educational opportunities afforded youths everywhere.
Some said it was also the record-setting market on Wall Street that added to the bidders’ good mood. Whatever it was, auctiongoers did as suggested by their hosts — they bid and they bid often.
A couple of bidders spent $340,000 each for lots from Colgin Cellars — rare wine and a buyout for 50 at Thomas Keller’s French Laundry — and Hill Family Estate — tour and taping of “The Voice” and “Access Hollywood” along with Beverly Hills lodging and a special dinner at the Jacobson Orchards in Yountville.
One wine lover took Margrit Mondavi and Robert Mondavi Winery director of winemaking Genevieve Janssens up on their offer to take two couples on a very special tour of Burgundy, plus airfare, accommodations and Michelin-starred meals. He paid $220,000 for the privilege.
Another felt $240,000 was a real deal to get noted Napa Valley architect Howard Backen to provide the conceptual design for a new home in the valley. That lot was offered by the partners at Ovid Napa Valley as Backen had designed their facility.
Vintner Rick Jones was top bidder at $110,000 for a trip to London with the Peter Mondavi Charles Krug family to see the Crown Jewels and Ceremony of the Keys in the Tower of London.
One auction regular agreed to pay $190,000 for a trip to the Holy Land offered by Levensohn Vineyards — a trip that includes a three day tour of Israeli wineries.
There was spirited bidding as well for Alpha Omega’s lot that included VIP privileges at both Cannes and Napa Valley Film Festivals, with special parties, Chopard watches and a wine tasting for two with Michel Rolland. Last woman standing spent $250,000. Same was the case for a dinner for eight with Naoko Dalla Valle, along with a double magnum of Maya, which went for $150,000. And $150,000 was paid for Plumpjack/Cade’s trips to Tuscany and Squaw Valley with wine tours and meals included.
Only two of the lots in this year’s catalog went for under $100,000.
Just hours before the first gavel came down, no one would have predicted this year’s auction would raise as much as last — $16.9 million. But it did, and by 10 percent. As records fell across the board for E-auction, barrel auction and Fund-A-Need, auction 2014 came in at $18.7 million, records show.
When all was said and done, there’s little doubt that this auction was, indeed, the miracle at Meadowood.