Premiere Napa Valley Event Reaps $2.4 Million

Top bidder, retailer Gary Fisch, discusses his buying strategy

by Kerry Kirkham
nvv auction
Auctioneer Michael Chung prepares to drop the gavel on one of the 200 lots offered at this year's Premiere Napa Valley. Photo ©2011 Jason Tinacci
St. Helena, Calif.—The Napa Valley Vintners’ (NVV) 15th annual wine futures auction to the trade on Feb. 26 broke records, totaling nearly $2.4 million in sales. Vintners, retailers, restaurateurs, distributors, brokers and media from across the country and around the world assembled at The Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. This year’s take exceeded the last by more than 23% during the three-hour live auction.

“Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) is often viewed as a barometer of confidence in current, as well as future sales of Napa Valley wines. Saturday’s auction totals reflect a continuing trend of improved sales in the market for fine wine,” said NVV board president Kathleen Heitz Myers, president of 40,000-case Heitz Wine Cellars.

Financial snapshot
Last year’s PNV auction brought nearly 30% more than 2009’s take.  This year closed at 6% more than 2008’s record-setting $2.2 million, an indication that consumer confidence may be flowing into the wine industry. This year, there were 68 successful bidders, a third of them first-timers, who purchased 1,530 cases. Average case price was $1,546, an increase of 37% over 2009 and 20% more than 2010’s average case price.

Some 500 trade attendees, representing 85 retailers, 66 restaurants and 81 distributors/brokers, began the day with a tasting of 200 offerings and lunch in the CIA’s teaching school.

In a statement, PNV steering committee chair Michael Honig, president of Rutherford’s 45,000-case Honig Vineyards and Winery, said “The soul of Premiere is the opportunity to network, peer-to-peer for the trade and for the vintners in making new and reinforcing existing relationships with our key ambassadors.”

Broken records

Saturday’s auction also broke PNV’s previous single-lot record bringing $125,000 for five cases from 200-case Scarecrow Wine, purchased by Tokyo-based Nakagawa Wine Co. The previous single-lot record of $80,000 was set in 2007. Ichizo Nakagawa said, “When I came to the auction, I intended to get that wine, no matter what it took.” Nakagawa purchased five lots in total.

“I’m amazed, I’m shocked,” said Scarecrow owner Bret Lopez. “We never dreamed we’d reach this stature; (winemaker) Celia Welch is a humble genius.”

Wholesale buyer, Gary Fisch of Gary’s Wine and Marketplace, with three stores in New Jersey, remained the auction’s top bidder, capturing 300 cases from 32 producers, spending more than a half million dollars this year. Prior to placing his bids, Fisch secured buyers who agreed to purchase 99% of his catch.

Fisch acquired top-grossing lots from 500-case Ovid Napa Valley, 75,000-case Duckhorn Vineyards and 325,000-case Robert Mondavi Winery, as well as the chair’s lot from Honig Vineyards and Winery. This iteration was Fisch’s fourteenth time at PNV. He visits Napa a week prior to the auction, using the auction catalogue to pinpoint producers participating for the first time, and those with whom he has never had a buying relationship.

Fisch told Wines & Vines that behind his record-breaking purchase was “A great track record. Two years ago our guests actually starting tasting the premium wines they bought in previous years and it led to more purchases.”

Fisch cautioned that this doesn’t necessarily mean customers will always pony up this much for wine. “If an offering is truly unique, they may be more inclined,” he advised. Most of Fisch’s buyers make purchases like this only once a year, from defined budgets categorized into daily drinking and premier wines. Fisch’s clients typically spend between $25 and $40 for their daily wines, and an average of $130 for premium PNV wines. “They’re buying this because it’s truly special and unique.”

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