Auction back in the money

  • Monday 1 September 2003

Auction back in the money

The 23rd Napa Valley Wine Auction beat last year's total despite a faltering economy. The world's largest charity wine auction raised almost $6.5 million including a record $1 million bid.

Last year, the total was $6.12 million, down from the previous year's $7.6 million and the record $9.5 million in 2000 at the height of the internet boom. 'The days of funny money are over,' notes auction co-chair Roger Trinchero. 'But at least we spent the money!'

This year's results bring the total raised at the auctions sponsored by the Napa Valley Vintners Association to almost $50 million. The money supports local services, as well as farmworker housing, and last year 95% went to charity.

The auction began slowly and bids lagged, fuelling speculation that the auction total would be less than last year because of the weak economy and sombre mood in the country. However, that changed when the Trinchero family announced that it would match the 'Bidder's Brand' lot up to $1 million.

'I was a little concerned when the auction started out and the bids seemed a little low,' noted Roger Trinchero, who co-chaired this year's auction with his brother Bob, sister-in-law Evalyn and sister Vera Trinchero Torres. 'Lot one – 100 bottles a year for five years – was an incredible bargain at $52,000. The low bids were the impetus for Bob and me to try to light a fire.'

As it turned out, the family more than matched the winning $320,000 bid, bringing the total bid to $1 million including $25,000 donated by Raymond Tye in memorial to his son Michael who died just before the auction.

The Bidder's Brand lot made winners John and Tamra Gorman of Austin TX instant vintners. The previous record was $700,000 for ten 1.5-litre bottles of Harlan Estate in 2000. The prize was everything needed to produced 300 cases of wine. Including the Bidder's Brand, the Gormans spent $627,900 at the auction, making them its top bidders. The auction was created to promote Napa Valley wine as well as raise money for charity, and it has succeeded admirably, but special offerings such as the Bidder's Brand lot make it difficult to compare prices of individual wines.

The second largest bid, for example, was $360,000 for 90 bottles of wine spanning Robert Mondavi's career, in honour of his 90th birthday on 18 June. The lot featured a complete vertical of Robert Mondavi Private Reserve Cabernet from 1966 to 2000, including 20 vintages of Opus One.

The second biggest bidder was another Texan, perennial high-spender Dee Lincoln of Lonestar Steakhouse and Saloon, which operates restaurants throughout the US. She spent almost $600,000, including winning the Mondavi collection.

Of course, the live auction itself was only part of the attraction to attendees, who paid $1,250 each for the festivities, including private dinners at vintners' homes and wineries plus a grand banquet. The theme this year was Copa de Napa, inspired by New York's famed Copacabana nightclub of the 1930's. The weather cooperated, too, with perfect temperatures.

The auction committee also created more opportunities for less well-heeled bidders, including more smaller lots and 3-litre etched bottles of Trinchero wine for $250 so everyone could take home a wine memento from the event.

The chairpersons for the 2004 auction will be the Davies Family – Jamie, Bill and Hugh – of Schramsberg Vineyards. Next year's auction will run from 3–6 June, 2004.

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