Napa Valley Updates

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Napa Valley Auction News from the Napa Register

Auction raises $9.8 million
High bidders vie for extravagant prizes
By L. PIERCE CARSON, Register Staff Writer
Monday, June 11, 2007

Buoyed by cooling breezes, a great meal and the stable economy, generous bidders drove the 27th Auction Napa Valley to a near-record mark Saturday night, spending $9.8 million for everything from exclusive wine tours to scarce wines, from vacations in Vietnam and Mexico to the first luxury hybrid from Lexus.

And the evening’s top bidder got to drive home a brand new Maserati worth more than $100,000.

After sipping sparkling wine and noshing on hors d’oeuvres, a streamlined crowd of 320 bidders, guests, vintners and media strolled into a white open-air tent on the fairway at Meadowood Resort around 6 p.m. to enjoy a bounty of fresh organic produce and melt-in-your-mouth beef artfully prepared by eight of the valley’s top chefs.

Then actor/comic Dana Carvey loosened all up with topical humor that ran the gamut of rib-tickling political impressions (Hillary and Bill Clinton, Al Gore, Rudy Giuliani, Arnold Schwarzenegger and the Bushes, father and son) to one quip he wished he could have had back.

When Carvey aped Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi’s facial expression — remarking that “she looks like she just sat on something cold and wet” — he didn’t know her husband, Paul, a local grapegrower, was in the front row. The former “Saturday Night Live” regular attempted to redeem himself by pointing out to the upbeat crowd that Speaker Pelosi “is the only one who’ll stand up to W.” Carvey got a smile from her spouse.

A chatty dinner crowd seemed willing to part with its money from the get-go. Starting a good half-hour late, the live auction saw St. Helena’s Peter Chow spend $140,000 for the opening lot donated by the auction chairs. The Joseph Phelps winemaking family will provide Chow — who said he’s “good friends with Joe” — with a dinner in the Napa Valley for 40, dinners for six at San Francisco’s Gary Danko and New York’s Daniel, private jet to New York for six, tickets to a Broadway show and one of the only two remaining six-liter bottles of the inaugural Joseph Phelps Insignia.

But it was the lot offered by Shari and Garen Staglin that took top dollar, once again breaking the million-dollar mark. Sandi and John Thompson, of Woodside, underbidders on last year’s million-dollar lot from Staglin Family Vineyards, paid $1.1 million for a guided tour of Italy’s top wine estates and — a last minute addition — a new Maserati donated by the Staglins.

As catalogued, the Staglin lot includes a guided trip to Italy for four, plus a pair of Maseratis to take the two couples to such prestigious wine estates as Giacomo Conterno, La Spinetta and Gaja; stays in Milan, Piedmont and Venice; lunches, dinners and tastings with winery principals; a tour of the Maserati factory; roand und-trip business class airfare for four; along with tastings and meals in both Napa Valley and Los Angeles.

Chairman and CEO of Symantec in Cupertino, Thompson said the trip designed by the Staglins “will give us an opportunity to learn more about Italian wines.”

Asked if he had ever driven a Maserati, Thompson replied: “I have lots of fancy cars.” He added that he would not let his wife drive it however, maintaining “she’s a terrible driver.”

“I’m not driving it ever,” Sandi Thompson chimed in. “The only thing I drive well is him crazy.”

Still a player

Last year’s top bidder, Joy Craft, of Woodside, spent half-a-million dollars for the opportunity to “camp out” with seven friends amidst the vines at Screaming Eagle, along with new owners Stanley Korenke and Charles Banks, and take home three double magnums of the cult favorite, Screaming Eagle, vintages 2001-2003.

“I’m a camper, a hiker, a backpacker,” said the self-assessed rags-to-riches businesswoman who runs an education foundation in South Carolina named WebbCraft after her grandmother and grandfather, respectively. “I have a lot of personalities. I love the idea of camping out among the vines.”

Asked if she intended to drink the wine, Craft added: “Absolutely. And if I die, I want to have it poured on my grave ... and see what grows. I’m gonna take it with me.”

Craft also took home another Top 10 lot, noting the auction “is all about charity.” She paid $340,000 for a one-of-a-kind collection of Araujo Estate wines — the first ever offering of Eisele Vineyards Vielles Vignes cabernet sauvignon in both standard and large bottle formats, plus double magnums of Eisele Vineyard Napa Valley cabernet from 1991 through 1997.

A special lot

About two-thirds through the auction Saturday night, auctioneers Ursula Hermacinski and Fritz Hatton introduced vintner John Shafer to talk about a special lot added to the line-up. Shafer, who for years has helped raise funds for Health Clinic Olé — which provides medical service to uninsured and under-insured area residents — told bidders about the clinic’s efforts to have check-ups and immunizations for all children in the Napa Valley. He said a $1,000 donation would pay for the cost of at least a half dozen children.

Bids were solicited from attendees in increments of $1,000, $5,000, $10,000 and so on, with dozens of bidders holding paddles high.

Teaming up with the Trinchero family, vintner/co-chair Joe Phelps pledged $225,000 to become high bidder for this special lot, with third-year auction attendee and frequent high bidder Joy Craft offering $200,000 for the Fund the Need lot. Total amount pledged in less than 10 minutes was $769,000.

An ecstatic co-chair

“I’m really happy,” auction co-chair Bill Phelps said several times as the final gavel came down on the three-and-a-half hour live auction. “I’m ecstatic — the numbers are good and I think it was a huge success. We were able to do what we wanted — to keep this auction going in a sustainable manner. That’s the most important thing — to keep this event going on and on.”

During a break in the music that had dancers boogieing under the stars until midnight, Phelps took to the stage to thank bidders and volunteers alike in making the 2007 auction a success. There were plenty of oohs and aahs when he told them all auction components were expected to bring in more than $9.8 million this year. (The 25th anniversary auction in 2005 took in a total of $10.5 million.)

The shortest barrel auction ever this past Friday at Taste Napa Valley — just four hours long — saw a record $1.23 million spent on 106 lots of wine specially crafted for the auction. Last year’s barrel auction, which was conducted over several days, grossed $815,000, said Linda Reiff, executive director of auction-sponsoring Napa Valley Vintners.

Growing in popularity, the e-auction, with its 81 lots, brought in online bids totaling $378,000, she added. Last year’s total was $310,000.

More top lots

In addition to the Staglin, Screaming Eagle and Araujo offerings, additional Top 10 lots at this year’s weather-perfect auction included:

• $400,000 for the auction’s largest wine bottle, an 18 liter offering of Hundred Acre cabernet sauvignon, plus a dinner for 10 hosted by vintner Jayson Woodbridge, purchased by a mystery man who said he was bidding for someone else, who he also refused to identify.

(Napa Valley Vintners asks bidders if they’d like to remain anonymous, in that their names are not included on the list containing auction participants’ paddle numbers. As an example, eight of the top bidders at Auction Napa Valley 2006 opted for anonymity on this year’s list, although some nevertheless identified themselves if they made successful bids this year.)

• $380,000 for the perennial favorite, the Harlan lot; this year the lot included four double magnums of the most highly regarded vintages (’94, ’97, ’01, ’02) presented in a handcrafted cherrywood case bound in cowhide, plus a celebratory meal for eight. Ron and Teri Kuhn, owners of Pillar Rock Vineyard and longtime auction supporters, purchased this lot.

• $360,000 for the Napa Valley Vintners lot that featured the first luxury hybrid sedan from Lexus. The trade association’s lot also included first class airfare to Tennessee so the winning bidder can spend a weekend at the luxurious Blackberry Farm in the Great Smoky Mountains where two spaces are reserved at the Blackberry Cooking School. Also included was wine, a Napa Valley dinner and entertainment provided by seven female stalwarts of the local wine scene. High bidder was vintner Mary Miner, of Oakville Ranch Vineyards.

• $320,000 for the Colgin Cellars lot, a rare horizontal of 2004 IX Estate Napa Valley red wine — four 750 ml bottles, two magnums and one double magnum, allowing the bidder to explore the wine’s evolution in different formats — plus a dinner for 10 at the winery. Purchased by an anonymous bidder.

• $280,000 for the luxurious Opus One offering — first class airfare to and accommodations in Bordeaux for three couples, with a visit to Chateau Mouton Rothschild and dinner in the chateau’s private library. The three couples will accompany Baroness Philippine de Rothschild on a return first class flight to the Napa Valley where they will be hosted by the baroness and Robert and Margrit Mondavi at a gala dinner at Opus One. The lot includes 10 magnums of Opus One, dating from 1979 to 2002. Vintner Ann Colgin and partner Joe Wender were high bidders on this lot.

• $250,000 for Shafer Vineyards’ trio of Hillside Select double magnums, ’96-’98; plus vintner Doug Shafer will show up at high bidders David and Donna Reis’ home armed with a six vintage vertical of Hillside Select to accompany dinner. And he’ll pick up the dinner tab as well. “We’re on the Hillside Select mailing list and think it’s a helluva good wine,” said Reis after posting a winning bid.

• $240,000 for 100 bottles of wine from the sponsoring Napa Valley Vintners, this lot will provide the anonymous high bidder with VIP Patron passes for two to the second season of Festival del Sole, the wine country classical music festival patterned on a similar event in Cortona, Italy. The NVV lot also includes VIP Patron passes for two to the Singapore Sun Festival, plus round-trip business class tickets to Singapore and accommodations at the Raffles Hotel. Also included was a high performance digital sound system for the home designed by Steinway.

Register Staff Writer Jack Heeger contributed to this story.