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Auction Napa Valley Gets Its Groove Back

The Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) trade association held the latest iteration of the Collective Napa Valley Auction Weekend from May 31 to June 1. The evolving series of festive events raised $4.8 million, including a revamped live auction that brought in $2.4 million, and the proceeds will support youth mental health programs in Napa County.

Unlike both the extravagant prepandemic events and modest postpandemic fundraisers, the new auction brought back some of the original luxury while adding intimacy and focus, with a smaller audience and fewer lots. “There was such great energy. People were excited to be back,” said Emma Swain, CEO of St. Supéry Estate Vineyards & Winery.

“We are truly thankful for the generosity of our donors and bidders,” said Cyril Chappellet, chair of Napa Valley Vintners and CEO and chairman of Chappellet Winery. “When those who care about Napa Valley come together, wonderful things happen.”

A Star-Studded History

Auction Napa Valley (formerly known as the Napa Valley Wine Auction) was founded in 1981 by a group of local vintners, including Robert and Margrit Mondavi. The annual event included a live auction at Meadowood resort for nearly 40 years, raising more than $200 million for local health and education initiatives during that span.

The auction was iconic for wine lovers; paddles went up for rare and high-priced wines, fantasy vacations, trips on private jets, jewelry and tickets to exclusive experiences at the Kentucky Derby and Super Bowl. Lots typically went for tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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At its peak, the live auction hosted as many as 1,000 guests, and bidding would go on for hours while up to 50 different lots were auctioned. The event was also known for celebrity appearances from the likes of Oprah Winfrey, John Legend, Jay Leno and Katy Perry. The auction raised a record $18.7 million in 2014, topping the $16.9 record the year before.

A Changing Event

The 2020 auction was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and Meadowood was severely damaged by wildfires in 2020. Even before those events, there had been discussions among vintners about whether the long format needed freshening up. Other charity wine events modeled on Napa’s had begun to attract increasing attention, particularly the Naples Winter Wine Festival in Florida. In late 2020, the NVV announced the discontinuation of the premier charity wine auction. Fundraising efforts would pivot to a year-round program called Collective Napa Valley, with a series of events both in Napa and elsewhere.

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Now the original format appears to be back, with some modifications. This year’s weekend began with the Napa Valley Barrel Auction, which took place at Hall Wines Friday. More than 1,600 guests sampled wines from 80 wineries and dishes from local restaurants. Wine lovers had the opportunity to bid on 10-case lots of unique wines from recent vintages, including offerings from Shafer, Cardinale, Alpha Omega, Robert Mondavi Winery, Chimney Rock and Salvestrin, among others.

Smaller Crowd, Big Lots

The main event—the live auction still known as Auction Napa Valley—took place Saturday, June 1, at Far Niente Winery. Nearly 400 guests (less than half of attendees in years past, and no media) started with dinner prepared by chef Philip Tessier from Press, a Wine Spectator Grand Award–winning restaurant. Vintners walked around the tables pouring wines for guests.

With only 14 lots rather than the typical 50 from past years, the auction raised more than $2.4 million. While there were fewer lots, they were reminiscent of the extravagance of earlier years—trips to destinations around the world, private chef dinners, rare vintages of special wines. Jeff Smith and Carolyn Duryea of Hourglass winery were the honorary chairs, and Sotheby’s Meaghan Steele and Vanessa Conlin led the high-spirited bidding.

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A winning bid for $180,000 included three gold-and-diamond Chanel Coco Crush bracelets and 45 bottles of wine from St. Supéry (Chanel is the parent company of the winery). Hall Wines consigned a lot, offering 14 luxurious days at sea on a yacht paired with a 6-liter bottle of wine. It sold for $230,000. (NVV did not provide a complete list of lots and sale prices.)

Next year’s auction weekend is scheduled for June 6–7. Alpha Omega owners Michelle and Robin Baggett will serve as honorary chairs. The more focused approach appears to be the future of the auction. “Our desire is to keep the format intimate in size,” said Teresa Wall of NVV. “The energy and excitement is much the same, but the evening is more of a true Napa Valley experience—a blend of sophistication and laid-back elegance.” Charity events are still expected throughout the year locally and nationwide.

But, for now, there’s a sense that the auction is back. “It’s still the event to be at for great wine and a good time,” explains St. Supéry’s Swain.

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