Buyers spent $3 million on wine in St. Helena. Here’s why

Hundreds of retail, wholesale and restaurant wine buyers from around the world converge on St. Helena every February for Premiere Napa Valley.

Marking its 28th year in 2024, the trade-only event features dozens of tastings over four days, culminating in a grand tasting and live auction at the Culinary Institute of America, Greystone.

This year’s event, held Feb. 21-24, included 166 auction lots created especially for Premiere.

For trade wine buyers, the multi-day experience is not only an opportunity to connect with colleagues and meet legendary Napa Valley winemakers; it’s also a chance to score exclusive wines for their retail shops and restaurant wine lists.

“As a retailer, this allows us to buy a one-off lot of something that doesn't exist anywhere else and never will again,” said Glenn Siegel, founder of Santa Rosa-based Wine Spectrum, an online seller of rare wines. “I am very much willing to buy something that nobody's ever heard of if I really believe in it.”

At the walk-around barrel tasting Feb. 23, buyers had a chance to sample all of the Premiere wines as a preview of Saturday's auction.

While the majority of the auction wines are made from Napa Valley’s signature grape variety, cabernet sauvignon, the auction’s small production requirement of just five, 10 or 20 cases allows winemakers to get creative with their offerings. That includes collaborating with other producers to make once-in-a-lifetime bottlings.

This year’s auction featured a dozen collaborative wines, including a joint effort by celebrated winemakers Cathy Corison of Corison Winery, Steve Matthiasson of Matthiasson Wines, and Rosemary Cakebread of Gallica. The trio’s Cabernet Sauvignon rosé was the only pink wine up for auction and only the second one presented in Premiere’s history.

“We have been friends and colleagues for a long, long time and we have really similar sensibilities,” said Corison, who normally makes only red wines. “We just wanted to do something interesting and fun.”

In another collaboration, winemakers from Heitz Cellar, Stony Hill Vineyard and Burgess Cellars came together to make a cabernet sauvignon from three iconic vineyards.

“The blending process was really fun,” said Heitz winemaker Brittany Sherwood. “We each brought a whole bunch of samples from each one of these vineyards to see what played well together. We wanted to be able to showcase something that was really representative of what we do best, which is a restrained, elegant and classic style of Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon.”

Sherwood points said Premiere wines often show a glimpse into the future of Napa Valley wines.

“People get to see what’s new and innovative,” she said, including trial wines that producers are playing with behind the scenes. After showcasing a one-off wine at Premiere, a winery may later decide to release it to the public on a larger scale — as Heitz did with its Lot C-91 Cabernet Sauvignon.

“It was so well received at Premier Napa Valley that we decided to incorporate it as a permanent wine in our portfolio,” Sherwood said. “This is a really good opportunity for people to see what wineries are working on.”

Kashy Khaledi, owner of Ashes & Diamonds winery in Napa, who presented a new Diamond Mountain Cabernet Sauvignon at the grand tasting, said he relishes the experimental aspect of Premiere — and he hopes to see more of that adventurous spirit in the region year-round.

“Napa Valley can be homogenized, so it's cool to see people do something punk rock and break out their shells,” Khaledi said. “I always push my dad to make a single-vineyard wine at Darioush, and he’s doing a single-vineyard wine here. So, I feel like everybody gets to be a little bit progressive and daring because of this event.”

All told, more than 200 wineries participated in making the 2024 Premiere wines.

When the auction concluded Feb. 24, trade bidders had spent a total of $3 million, with proceeds going to fund programs that promote and protect Napa Valley.

Premiere wines are sold as futures, meaning they are purchased before bottling. Depending on the wine — whites are typically ready for release earlier than reds — bottles will begin appearing on store shelves and wine lists this October.

Premiere offerings will be available locally through Wine Spectrum in Santa Rosa, V Wine Cellar in Yountville and Bounty Hunter Rare Wines & Spirits in Napa.

“Our customers get great wine out of it when we bid successfully,” said Jessica Fiore, wine buyer at Bounty Hunter, the winning bidder of a five-case lot of Oakville Cabernet Sauvignon from O'Shaughnessy Estate Winery. “They’re getting the best of the best.”

For additional outlets that carry Premiere wines from past and current auctions, as well details on the 2024 auction lots, visit

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