Premiere Napa Valley Earns Record $6 million

2013 Cabernet Sauvignon proves a large draw, sends average bottle price for all wines to $286

by Paul Franson
premiere napa valley
Bidding gets under way at the Premiere Napa Valley 2015 auction Feb. 21. Photo: Bob McClenahan/Napa Valley Vintners
St. Helena, Calif.—Napa Valley Vintners’ 19th annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel tasting and auction raised a new record, $6 million, edging out last year’s record haul of $5.9 million.

Fully 92% of the 225 lots featured wines from the praised 2013 vintage, and 175 were Cabernet Sauvignon.

The lots of wine were created specifically for the auction and could be sold only there to resellers who could then offer them to customers.

Some of the lots were made from specific blocks of vines; some from grapes not normally sold alone, and a number were from combinations of vintners.

Some lots contained 60 bottles (five cases), some 120 and some 240, compounding comparisons of bottle prices. The average price per bottle sold was $286.

The event
Premiere sold out more than a month in advance. It attracted more than 700 trade and media guests from eight countries and 30 different states. They participated in a selection of almost 50 pre-auction parties and tastings, all designed to raise the image and value of Napa Valley wines and their sponsors.

The 70 winning bidders will sell these rare wines with a Premiere Napa Valley designation.

The top earning lots announced by auctioneers Fritz Hatton and David Elswood included:

$115,000  Brand Napa Valley (five cases; $1,917 per bottle)
$100,000 Chateau Boswell Winery (five cases; $1,667)
$100,000 Fairchild Estate (five cases; $1,667)
$85,000   Gandona Estate (10 cases; $708 per bottle)
$80,000   Memento Mori (five cases; $1,333)
$80,000   Pulido Walker Cellars (five cases; $1,333)
$80,000   Shafer Vineyards (five cases; $1,333)
$75,000   Silver Oak Cellars (20 cases; $312)
$75,000   Rombauer Vineyards (20 cases; $312)
$75,000   Blend of Constant, David Arthur, Italics and Reynolds Family Winery
                  (20 cases; $312)

Just missing the top 10 lots was Tim Mondavi’s Continuum, which drew $70,000 for five cases at a cost of $1,167 per bottle.

The rarified cult wines that draw huge bids at the Vintners’ Auction Napa Valley in June (such as Harlan, Screaming Eagle, Colgin and Schrader) weren’t in the auction, nor were renowned Opus One or Dominus.

“It was an auction for the rest of us,” noted respected winemaker Genevieve Janssens at Robert Mondavi Winery, whose lots of 20 cases of Monastery Block To-Kalon sold for $60,000.

The wines that did especially well included some relative newcomers and some that were well proven. Eight of the wines in the auction involved celebrated winemaker Philippe Melka and five from Thomas Rivers Brown.

Brown also had his hand in the rare Howell Mountain Aloft wine he made with Angelina Mondavi and her father, Marc Mondavi. Angelina Mondavi seems to have inherited the family touch; three of the wines she’s made as assistant winemaker at Jayson Woodbridge’s Hundred Acres have garnered 100-point scores from the Wine Advocate.

It seems that more alternate varieties were offered this year than in the recent past, however:

175  Cabernet Sauvignon
23   Red blends
4     Cabernet Franc
6     Pinot Noir
4     Merlot
3     Sauvignon Blanc
2     Chardonnay
2     Malbec
2     Sparkling wine
1     Chenin Blanc
1     Muscadine
1     Petit Verdot
1     Petite Sirah
1     Zinfandel

By far the most unique offering was Spiriterra Vineyards’ 2014 Muscadine, made from very aromatic grapes native to owner Paul Dean’s home state of Georgia. It attracted a bid of $12,000, or $50 per bottle for each of the 240 bottles.

New traditions
This was the first Premiere for long-time Napa Valley winery V. Sattui, as the industry accepts that a skilled winemaker like Brooks Painter can make top-flight wines as well as wines popular with mass-market consumers. It was also a bit of an anomaly since the V. Sattui wines are normally only available from the winery.

Emma Swain, the CEO of St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery, was Premiere Napa Valley chair, sharing the honors with winemaker Michael Scholz.

Top trade accounts bidding at the event included: Total Wine & More, Cliffewood Wine Syndicate, Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, Wine Library, Beverage Warehouse, Nakagawa Wine Co., The Wine House, N16 Cellars, Meritage Wine Market and Veraison.

“We are happy to be back once again to support Napa Valley,” noted Cristina Pearce of Total Wine, the top bidder. “The 2013 vintage has excellent wines to offer, and we are excited about the lots we were able to obtain today. We can't wait to show them to our customers."

Consumers interested in procuring these high-quality, limited-production wines for their own cellar can obtain information about the successful bidder for each lot at premierenapawines.com.

The barrel tasting and auction was the final event of “Premiere Week,” which includes numerous educational programs and professional tastings throughout the Napa Valley each February, including Sommelier Napa Valley, the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, the Vintage Perspective and Retrospective Tasting, almost 50 winery-hosted tastings and events as well as Napa Valley wine promotions at local restaurants.

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