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Auction Napa Valley Brings in $7.3 Million For Charity and Gives Guests a Lavish Weekend of Wine and Food

By Hayley Hamilton Cogill |

The last sold shout comes out from Wine Auctioneer pro Fritz Hatten on a drenched but joyous group of over 800 Auction Napa Valley  guests dawning rubber boots and Napa wine festive attire celebrating the 31styear of the wine and dine weekend benefiting local Napa Valley charities. 

$7.3 million was raised over the 4 day event much of it at the actual auction, with the highest single Lot dollar amount raised for the Fund a Need Lot 24 benefiting children’s health and wellness charities in Napa where the only prize came from dozens of kids carrying balloons and cupcakes around to each individual bidder to show their gratitude. The Lot sold for $1.1 million spread out among 132 bidders.

Though the big Lots still brought in a hefty penny with Staglin Family Vineyards and Michael Chiarello Vineyards bringing in a bid on their Lot 10 for $300K, which they then doubled for a total of $600K raised. One of my favorites for the history donated by Margrit Mondavi and included 2 bottles ofRobert Mondavi ToKalon Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon from 1971 to 2006 and a 12L bottle from 2007 which brought in about $100K.  The founding of Auction Napa Valley came from Margrit and Robert Mondavi in 1981.  Lot 22 was also a favorite – a selection of wine from various vintners in Oakville including Nickle and Nickle, Plumpjack, Harlan Estate, Miner and Screaming Eagle which brought in about $55K. 

John Watanbe, Chef Cindy Pawlcyn of Mustard's Grille, K.R. Rombauer III of Rombauer Vineyards and Rebecca Fine from Trinchero Family Estates. The Rombauer Family was this years Auction Honorary Event Chairs.

It is no surprise that spirits weren’t dampened with the rain as they started the festivities with a glass of toasty, nutty Mumm Napa Rose and a delicious lunch created by the woman who may be the Queen, if Thomas Keller is the King, of Napa Valley cooking, Chef Cindy Pawlcyn owner of Mustard’s Grille, Go Fish and Cindy’s Backstreet.  The night ended with an Italian family style feast prepared by the charming Chef Michael Chiarello whose Burrata with Heirloom tomatoes, Basil oil and Balsamic Caviar was something to write home about .

Barrel tasting and auction
Chef Morimoto

The most fun might have been the day before at the marketplace, barrel tasting and auction where 2000 guests gathered at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone  in St Helena to taste and bid on some of the finest Napa Cabernet Sauvignon and Bordeaux blends of 2008 and 2009 where they were auctioned off on the second floor.  Outside on the grounds of the CIA a full marketplace filled with restaurateurs, including the Chef  Keller serving smoked salmon, Iron Chef Morimoto serving grilled octopus, and incredible roast chicken with truffle pizza from Pizzeria TraVigne greeted guests and served beside dozens of white varietals from the Valley. 

The highest bid of the barrel auction went to the 2009 Hillside Select Shafer, understandably as a wine from Shafer will never disappoint, but some smaller wineries grabbed my attention and are certainly ones to look out for when their 2008 or 2009 releases are out. 

Mi Sueno (My Dream) is still relatively new but they are producing Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon with a subtlety and focus on the earth without a light hand in the winery.  Their 2010 Selection Herrera Cabernet Sauvignon showed some of this subtlety with luscious fruit, anise and cedar.

I was happy to make my way around to the Titus Vineyards barrel from brothers Eric, who handles the grape growing in their vineyard just off the Silverado Trail in St. Helena, and Phillip, the winemaker of the duo.  The Titus brothers have a wonderful nonchalant, laid back persona with huge smiles and big laughter with everyone who stopped by their barrel.   Their personalities are a lot like their wine, balanced and yet bold and robust.  Their signature Cabernet Sauvignon was incredible just out of the barrel filled with chocolate, black plums and ripe cherries.          

Brothers Philip Titus and Eric Titus

Honig Vineyard and Winery hopes to make wine that is approachable and drinkable everyday.  Though best known for both their sustainable practices and their citrus, peach and orange blossom filled Sauvignon Blanc the 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon Bartolucci Vineyard was big and lush with black licorice, smoky spice and ripe currant and plum flavors.  Though still in the barrel it will be a wine to drink both when young or after a few years of bottle aging. 

Spottswoode Estate Vineyard and Winery makes great wine.  It is pretty much that simple, but wow the 2009 Family Grown Estate Cabernet does the family name proud. Filled with ripe berry, nutmeg, cloves and a hint of herbal notes this is a wine that when bottled will age beautifully for many years to come.

Alan Viader from Viader Winery

One of the best elements of the barrel auction was that opportunity to really taste through Napa Valley. If you talk to any wine maker, really in any region, they say that the land on this side of a street may produce an entirely different wine than on the other side of the street.  Within a few hundred yards the complete profile of a wine, structure and flavors produced can be different.  Tasting straight out of the barrels through the valley gives you the opportunity to really identify the differences, and they aren’t subtle. This experience also allows you to taste the futures of your favorite producers, as well as find some new ones.

This year the Auction surpassed the $100 million donated throughout the community to health care, youth service and affordable housing non-profit programs in Napa County.  The annual event is hosted each year by the Napa Valley Vintners, a non-profit organization founded in 1944 today with 400 Napa Valley wineries.  Auction Napa Valley takes place the first weekend of June every year.  Hopefully next year will come without the rain.