On the morning of Saturday, February 20th, I awoke to a sight that never fails to take my breath away. From our family home in St. Helena, California we can see clear across the valley to the CIA at the base of the Mayacamas. Some days, the fog line is above us, but on others, like on this past Saturday, the day of the 2016 Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction, it sits just below our vantage point, as if a thick blanket of snow had fallen overnight and covered the entire valley up to our terrace. It provided a serene calm before the lucrative storm that would literally bid itself into being as the fog lifted and the sun flickered in and out as if trying to sneak a peak at the $5 Million dollars raised during the auction. The money raised by the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), a nonprofit trade association boasting more than 525 members dedicated to producing high quality wines, improving the environment, is used toward the greater good of sustaining and promoting Napa’s legacy as a leading American institution of wine production.
If you’ve never been, the Premiere Napa Valley Barrel Auction is held on the third floor of the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone, in the Vintners Hall of Fame. While Napa’s best producers poured through barrel samples of their mostly 2014 vintage wines, produced specifically for Premiere (wines sold at Premiere are micro-lots of 60 to 240 bottles), they did so in front of the bronzed visages of iconic founding giants of the valley’s past: Charles Krug, Robert Mondavi, Gustave Niebaum, André Tchelistcheff, and living legends such as Carole Meredith, PhD, Randall Grahm, Zelma Long, Andy Beckstoffer and Meredith “Merry” Edwards.
But the point of Premiere is not to impress those who have already proven their worth, but rather to prove to the more than 1,000 wine professionals in attendance–and the licensed members of the trade there to purchase lots on behalf of collectors as well as on- and off-premise accounts–that the worth of their wine is wholly worth their bid, no matter the cost. And this year’s collection of bidding giants did not disappoint showed their support, bid after bid.
The palatable rewards to be gained from this tasting requires that as a taster, you acknowledge that these are young, tense wines that are easily agitated. They are just out of barrel, powerful and ripe with tannin, but eager to show off their more seductive side–the fruit and floral aromas that combine so perfectly, they just dare you to spit. While working through as many of the 220 lots to taste, some simply need to be revisited. And I found myself going back time and again to certain lots until I was able to emerge from under a canopy of mouth-drying tannin to quench my thirst with the sweet or savory qualities that the wine was up for showing.
There is a great amount of pleasure to be gained from tasting wines that will only be enjoyed by a relatively small audience in the grand scheme of wine consumption. Also, there is the human element of seeing familiar faces and friends and the social and convivial atmosphere that only wine can inspire in every place it is uncorked. It’s very easy (and fun of course) to get side-tracked, stopping to chat (read: joke around) with friends. I got caught up with two such winos: Lon Gallagher, Brand Public Relations, E. & J. Gallo Winery and my colleague, Catherine Bugue, Director of Education, Napa Valley Wine Academy, who was there to pen a story for the St. Helena Star. Still, through it all, you taste, you take note and before you know it another Premiere has gone by.
“We’re thrilled with the results and we had a great day sharing our wines with our partners in the trade,” noted Doug Shafer of Shafer Vineyards, this year’s Premiere Napa Valley Steering Committee chair. “Over the past 20 years, Premiere has helped Napa Valley’s vintners to really push the quality envelope. Because of this event, I believe we’re all making even better wines.”
According to the NVV, the $5 Million raised was the “the third highest amount raised in the event’s 20-year history.”
Top grossing lots at the auction included: Italics Winegrowers, Memento Mori, Nine Suns, Realm Cellars, Rombauer Vineyards, Shafer Vineyards, TOR Kenward Family, Duckhorn Vineyards, Silver Oak Cellars and ZD Wines.
“The collectability of Napa Valley’s rarest wines was on dramatic display today,” noted Emma Swain, chair of the NVV’s board of directors and CEO of St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery. “We are grateful to our friends and colleagues in the wine trade who join us year after year, seeking out the excellence and endless possibilities of our winemaking.”
Consumers interested in obtaining Premiere Napa Valley wines for their own cellar will find information on the successful bidder for each 2016 lot, as well as past Premiere Napa Valley wine offerings, at premierenapawines.com. Quotes in this article courtesy of the NVV.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jonathan Cristaldi is the Editor-in-Chief of NapaValleyWineAcademy.com. Prior to joining the academy, he was the Deputy Editor of two of the largest wine and spirits trade publications in the U.S.: Tasting Panel Magazine, The SOMM Journal and recently a farm-to-table magazine called The Clever Root. In addition to his work with Napa Valley Wine Academy and as a Contributing Editor to those print publications, he is a regular contributor to Vivino, Liquor.com and First We Feast. Cristaldi’s work has also appeared in Los Angeles Magazine, Liquid LA, Thrillist (National Edition), Tasting Table (National Edition), Time Out LA and most recently Psychology Today. He is the co-founder of TheNobleRot.com and founder of Winetology.com and the NobleRotTalks.com podcast. Cristaldi’s history of enthusiastic and sometimes avant-garde approach to wine education events earned him the title of “Wine Prophet” by Time Out NY. He currently lives in the San Francisco Bay Area and is enrolled in the WSET Diploma studies program.
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