Though their motto for 2014 was “sweet home Napa Valley”, Auction Napa Valley could have easily gone with “go big or go home”. Because big is where bidders went across the entire weekend, raising a record-breaking $18.7 million for healthcare and child education nonprofits in Napa Valley. In this lush valley of contrasts, the divide between wealthy and working can seem insurmountable; the average annual wage hovers around $25,000, while living expenses can more than triple that. This event is where the gap is bridged. To date, more than $120 million from Auction Napa Valley proceeds have gone directly to Napa County nonprofit organizations.
The weekend kicked off, like so many in wine country, with a party in a vineyard. Casual welcome parties were dotted at wineries across the valley, uniting bottles with small plates, live music, and vintner hospitality. This continued the following evening with a series of intimate wine dinners (some limited to only 10 guests) at vintners’ private homes or wineries. Chefs from the valley and San Francisco were summoned, private tours were given, and library bottles were dusted off and opened for the occasion.
Though Anita and Ron Wornick of St. Helena’s Seven Stones Winery make only one wine, their singular and premium Cabernet Sauvignon, they pulled bottles from their personal cellar to complement their menu. Bruno Paillard Brut Champagne 2004 was shared liberally, as was the stunning and rare 1978 Robert Mondavi Johannisberg Riesling. “I found it amid some boxes in the garage” Ron noted, “and it was such a strange, dark brown colour I thought for sure it was off.” This little gem was just one of the many spontaneous— and heartfelt— gestures of hospitality throughout the event.
The fundraising thrust is based on the auctions, including Friday’s Napa Valley Barrel Auction, Saturday’s main Live Auction, and an e-auction that ran for the entire week prior to the festival weekend. The festivities—and bidding—got off to a rousing start with Friday’s Barrel Auction and Marketplace at Charles Krug Winery. While grazing through booths manned by local chefs, and vintners, hundreds of visitors (and virtual visitors) bid on barrels of premium Napa Valley wine, primarily from the much-heralded 2012 vintage. Chatting with chef Thomas Keller while nibbling on the French Laundry’s signature salmon cornets and sipping Schramsberg Blanc de Blanc Brut has a way of getting people in a bidding mood. When the last bell rang, top barrels included Brand Napa Valley (won for $83,050), Shafer Vineyards ($55,200), Continuum Estate ($52,750), and Gargiulo Vineyards ($51,400).
Saturday’s event at Meadowood Napa Valley is heralded as the American Wine Classic, and one of the preeminent wine auctions in the world. Now in its 34th year, the fundraising weekend is centered on the extravagant live auction, a high energy afternoon that only paused—briefly— so the “Napa Festive”–attired crowd (think big hats and colourful seer sucker suits) could watch the Belmont Stakes on the big screens. After the final stretch, fervent bidding resumed, for a total of five enthusiastic hours—and countless bottles of Napa wine consumed.
The 50 live auction lots, donated and carefully curated by Napa wineries, drew bidders and attention from around the globe. Bidding began at $20,000 and paddles rapidly waved the value upwards from there.
Highlights included a night at the 2015 Oscars for the winner and friends, including a private jet, designer evening gown, Oscar after-party invite, and private screening. The winning bid was $420,000, paid by two separate bidders. Another, a judge seat for the 2015 Robb Report Car of the Year, 2015 Culinary Masters Competition, five-night stay in Maui, and five-night stay in Bora Bora, with business-class transportation included. The winning bid was $220,00, paid by two separate bidders.
By far, the most impressive show was the final lot, and one that had no wine, no glamour, and no trips associated with it. Fund-A-Need invited donations that went directly to local children in need and the associations that provide for their safety, health, education, and future. The audience response was poignant and powerful, as bidders raised paddles in increments from $1,000 to $1 million, adding $3.8 million to the fundraising total.
By Sunday, it was evident that indeed, people went big for Napa Valley. “We are amazed and humbled by the beyond-our-dreams results of this year’s Auction Napa Valley,” said Linda Reiff, president and CEO of the Napa Valley Vintners. The abundance in the valley was shared with its residents, working to make sure Napa Valley’s citizens are able to live life in their sweet home.