15th annual Premiere Napa Valley Auction results show optimism in economy, confidence in Napa Valley wines

ST. HELENA -- The Napa Valley Vintners’ annual wine futures auction to the trade held Feb. 26 in the Napa Valley, broke records finishing at nearly $2.4 million in sales.

At 1,000-strong, the crowd of vintners along with 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 topped last year’s take by more than 23 percent during the three-hour live auction.

“Premiere Napa Valley 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 from the renowned American appellation, as well as optimism for the coming months and years,” said NVV Board President Kathleen Heitz Myers of Heitz Wine Cellars.

By the numbers

The statistics show a continual trending up. Last year’s PNV auction brought nearly 30 percent more than 2009’s take, and this year closed at 6 percent  more than 2008’s record-setting $2.2 million. These are clear indicators that confidence in investing in Napa Valley wines is strong.

Overall this year there were 68 successful bidders -- a third of whom were first-time bidders -- who purchased 1,530 cases at an average case price of $1,546, an increase of 37 percent over the recession-stressed take of 2009 and 20 percent more than 2010’s average case price.

The barrel futures auction capped a day where the 500 trade attendees representing 85 retailers, 66 restaurants, and 81 distributors/brokers began early in the morning with a tasting of the 200 offerings, followed by lunch in the school’s teaching kitchen. Along with bidding, the day is the “must attend” networking event for these influential trade people.

“You could feel the buzz from the time the doors opened," said Heitz Myers. "The weather report called for snow in the Napa Valley -- seriously -- and thankfully it turned out to be a beautiful, sunny day. The energy was upbeat."

"I am thrilled that our fundraising has been such a great success this year," said 2011 auction Steering Committee Chair Michael Honig of Honig Vineyards and Winery. "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 in the wine trade.

The Saturday event sets the stage for a lot of business being done beyond the auction, he said.

"It’s great for our vintners and great for these trade who sell our wine to their customers," Mr. Honig said.

New records being set

Saturday’s auction also broke the auction’s previous single-lot record, bringing $125,000 for a five-case offering from Scarecrow Wine, selling to Tokyo-based Nakagawa Wine Co. The previous single-lot record of $80,000 was set in 2007.

Perennial auctioneer Fritz Hatton worked the bidding war that roared quickly into six figures as the audience of bidders and vintners cheered. When the gavel fell, the crowd jumped to their feet in rousing applause.

Ichizo Nakagawa when asked why he battled for the lot 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 stepping outside to catch his breath. “We never dreamed we’d reach this stature and (winemaker) Celia Welsh is a genius, a humble genius who coaxes the sublime flavors from the old men,” referring to the 66-yearold- vines that produce just a ½ ton per acre.

Gary Fisch of Gary’s Wine and Marketplace with three stores in New Jersey continues as the auction’s top bidder, capturing 300 cases from 32 producers, spending more than a half million dollars this year alone. Fisch holds the title as the retailer offering the most prestigious list of Premiere Napa Valley wines in the world. This year among his successful bids, Fisch captured top-grossing lots from Ovid, Duckhorn Vineyards and Robert Mondavi Winery, as well as the chair’s lot from Honig Vineyards and Winery.

The value of PNV wines for a wholesale buyer like Fisch is that the wines provide offerings to clients that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, and from America’s most renowned wineries that no prestigious cellar should be without.

Also among the top 10 bidders of the day were

The Wine House, Los Angeles

Cliffewood Wine Syndicate, Little Rock, Ark.

The Bounty Hunter, Napa

Meritage Wine Market, Encinitas

Golden Gate Wine Cellars, San Francisco

Beverage Warehouse, Los Angeles

Cache Road Liquor & Wines, Lawton, Okla.

The Metz Group, Dallas, Penn.

Bearfoot Bistro, Whistler, British Columbia

Montesquieu, Napa

Rounding out the top 10 highest earning lots of the day include

Schrader Cellars

Ovid, a first-time participant

Levy and McClellan

Shafer Vineyards

Robert Mondavi Winery

Reynolds Family Winery

Duckhorn Vineyards

Silver Oak Cellars

Beringer Vineyards

What started in 1997 as the “bake sale” for the trade association’s work to promote and protect the Napa Valley appellation has become a nearly week-long mid-winter gathering, placing Napa Valley in the center of the wine industry.

Officially part of the the auction is the Vintage Perspective Tasting, in its fifth year. Here more than 300 trade and media tasted blind, three-year verticals of Cabernet Sauvignon and Pinot Noir from 20 producers to see a snapshot of Napa Valley wines referenced as the vintage leaving market, in market and coming to market. This unique-to-Napa Valley tasting provides a view as to how a wine evolves, its vintage variation and so on. This year, Cabernet Sauvignons were tasted from vintages 2006, 2007 and 2008 and Pinot Noirs from 2007, 2008 and 2009.