Auction Napa Valley Raises $15.8 Million

Offerings by Raymond Vineyards and Opus One among most popular

by Paul Franson
auction napa valley bid
The winner of an auction lot celebrates Saturday during Auction Napa Valley at Meadowood in St. Helena, Calif. Photo by Bob McClenahan/Napa Valley Vintners
St. Helena, Calif.—The Napa Valley Vintners’ annual Auction Napa Valley charity event raised $15.8 million for community health and children’s education this weekend. Though the huge sum was down  from last year’s $18.3 million, it set a new record of $2.4 million for a single live auction lot and records for the barrel and e-auction totals.

Since the inaugural auction in 1981, the Vintners have given more than $145 million in auction proceeds to the Napa County community, and last year distributed $23 million, of which $10 million was for relief after the magnitude-6.0 earthquake shook the valley Aug. 24, 2014.

The weekend weather was perfect even though earlier in the week forecasters had warned of possible showers. In parched California, no one would have minded the rain, though a few years ago, unseasonal rains drenched the event.

Top bids

    • Opus One Chair's Lot

    • Napa Valley Vintners: Fund-A-Need

    • Raymond Vineyards

    • Alejandro Bulgheroni Estate

    • Vine Trail

    • Screaming Eagle

    • Chateau Montelena, Joseph Phelps Vineyards and Quintessa

    • Staglin Family Vineyard

    • Dana Estates

    • Colgin Cellars

    • Hestan Vineyards
The top single bid was for a collaboration between singer John Legend and Raymond Vineyards, including a dinner and concert for 30 at the home of Raymond owner Jean-Charles Boisset and his wife Gina Gallo on Wappo Hill, which was once owned by Robert Mondavi.

The lot also included a collection of large bottles from the singer’s new Legend Vineyard Exclusive wine made by Raymond Vineyards winemaker Stephanie Putnam.

The lot brought in $850,000—a figure perhaps enhanced after Legend made a surprise appearance before the action started to sing his hit “All of Me,” and was joined by Boisset.

However, the Chair’s Lot donated by Opus One and its CEO David Pearson raised $2.4 million and became the event’s top-grossing lot of all time after it was tripled and sold to three different bidders.

It included a 35-year vertical collection of Opus One magnums and a two-week tour for two couples to visit some of the most renowned family-owned wineries in the world: Château Mouton Rothschild, Chateau de Beaucastel, Domaine Hugel & Fils, Maison Joseph Drouhin and Champagne Pol Roger in France, Bodegas Vega Sicilia and Torres in Spain, Marchesi Antinori and Sassicaia in Italy, Weingut Egon Müller, Scharzhof, in Germany, and the Symington family in Portugal. The travel is first class to Paris, then by private jet around Europe.

Opus One also donated a heady lot that included a visit to Dubai, and Opus One’s co-owners (the Rothschild family and Constellation Brands) each kicked in $300,000 for the Fund-a-Need lot that was pure giving; the donors received nothing tangible in return. The vintners described this lot as the auction’s second largest but did not reveal the total for this lot.

Almost all of the lots included experiences or merchandise as well as wine, but a single 12-liter bottle of Screaming Eagle went for $500,000, as it did in two previous years. The winery makes only two of these bottles each year and donates one to the auction every other year. “We make two in case something happens to one,” stated an insider, who only smiled when asked where the others went.

Bidding for bikes
Another big lot was a first: a fixed-price bid. Bidders paid $5,000 each to participate in a special bike ride preceding next year’s auction (and a custom bike). Not surprisingly, the lot was sponsored by the Napa Valley Vine Trail, which the Vintners have pledged $2.5 million to build a bicycle and pedestrian trail stretching the length of Napa Valley. 

Chuck McMinn, who pioneered and spearheads the Vine Trail effort, said that “between 75 and 85 riders signed up, but they’re still counting.” He also welcomes additional riders or contributors.

Also, two grand marshals signed up for $95,000 each, for a total of more than half a million dollars.

Auction festivities
The week started unofficially at the annual Wine Spectator Magnum Party at Tra Vigne restaurant in St. Helena on Wednesday, which was attended by top vintners from Napa and some from Sonoma.

The Spectator party might be the most-sought invitation of the weekend, and it had rigorous security to keep out crashers. Among those attending were living legends Peter Mondavi Sr., Margrit Mondavi, Mike Grgich and John Shafer as well as Marvin Shanken, publisher of Wine Spectator.

On Thursday night, auction guests attended intimate dinners at wineries and vintners’ homes. Chateau Potelle vintner Jean-Noel Potelle held a “white dinner,” where guests were asked to dress in white.


    The Napa Valley barrel auction raised a record $1.9 million through the sale of these Napa Valley wine futures. The top 10 barrel auction lots included:

    • Atelier Melka

    • Realm Cellars

    • Mayacamas Vineyards

    • Shafer Vineyards

    • The Mascot

    • Continuum Estate

    • Arkenstone Vineyards

    • Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery

    • Larkmead Vineyards

    • Cardinale
About 2,000 guests attended Friday’s Napa Valley Barrel Auction at art-filled Hall St. Helena winery, which set a new record, raising $1.9 million through the sale of 120 lots of Napa Valley wine futures, most reds from the excellent 2013 vintage. Even with that many people, it didn’t seem overly crowded.

The guests enjoyed sips from 100 current release Napa Valley wines, mostly white and rosé wines on the warm day, though the event was fully shaded. They also nibbled on bites from more than 40 of Napa Valley’s celebrated chefs and food purveyors.

One of Friday’s surprises was a flash mob performance of “Ode to Joy” from Beethoven’s immortal Ninth Symphony, a gift from the Hall winery owners Kathryn and Craig Hall, and produced by Festival del Sole. More than 80 instrumentalists and vocalists were conducted by Mike Ling from atop an upright wine barrel.

The new Hall winery has become a top destination for events. It hosted the 25th anniversary celebration for local U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson two weeks before. Thompson made an appearance at the Barrel Auction as well.

On Friday night, vintners again held dinners for guests. The event at Raymond Vineyards reflected owner Jean-Charles Boisset’s renowned exuberance, including a guest visit by singer John Legend, though he saved his singing for auction day.

Legend has collaborated with Boisset on Legend Vineyard Exclusive Chardonnay and Cabernet wines made to his taste by Raymond winemaker Stephanie Putnam. Raymond chef Michel Cornu, who was called out of retirement by Boisset, prepared the evening meal.


    The e-auction, open to bidders all over the world during auction week, also set a record, in this case $612,500. The top 10 e-auction lots were:

    • Scarecrow Wine

    • Grgich Hills Estate

    • Kapcsandy Family Winery

    • Beaulieu Vineyard, Sterling Vineyards, Provenance Vineyards, Hewitt Vineyard and Acacia

    • Sherwin Family Vineyards

    • Crocker & Starr Wines, Outpost Wines

    • Clif Family Winery

    • Gamble Family Vineyards, Gemstone, Saint Helena Winery, Revana Family Vineyard

    • Parry Cellars

    • Dalla Valle Vineyards
On Saturday, 850 auction guests gathered for an informal marketplace lunch from chef Michael Chiarello of Bottega and Coqueta before the big auction itself began under the big tent at Meadowood.

As a prelude to the last lot of the day, Fund-A-Need, where bidders give differing amounts of money purely to benefit the needs of children in Napa County, the crowd quieted to watch five-year old Mia dance touchingly on stage with her father. Mia, who lives with her family in Napa County, was helped in part by Auction Napa Valley funding to receive treatment for spina bifida when she was just a toddler.

As the Live Auction ended, guests enjoined a twilight dinner by renowned international Chef Pierre Gagnaire.

The Huneeus family of Quintessa Vineyards will chair next year’s auction. As is traditional, they hosted the goodbye brunch at their estate Sunday morning where out-of-towners discovered that Californians like tacos and pizza for breakfast with Schramsberg sparkling and Quintessa still wines.

Alpha Omega winery and other wineries also hosted closing events on Sunday.

More than 450 winery members and 500 community volunteers contributed to the auction’s success.

The next Auction Napa Valley takes place June 2-5, 2016. Tickets go on sale in late January 2016.

Get more information at auctionnapavalley.org.

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