The Premiere Napa Valley auction has set a new sales record of $6m, thanks to fierce bidding for Cabernet Sauvignon wines from California's 2013 vintage.

Auctioneer David Elswood, of Christie’s, takes bids during the auction. Image credit: Napa Valley Vintners / Bob McClenahan

Sales narrowly beat last year’s record total of $5.9m, which was in turn nearly double the $3.1m raised in 2013.

The annual trade only auction, organised by the Napa Valley Vintners was held at the Culinary Institute of America on Saturday 20th February and was packed with 700 retailers, wholesalers and restauranteurs from across the US together with a number of overseas buyers.

Fierce bidding

Bidding was fierce, raucous and generous as the 225 limited edition micro lots, mostly Cabernet Sauvignon from the 2013 vintage were hammered down in just under four hours. Despite this, the top price didn’t match the extraordinary 2014 figure of $260,000 paid by The Wine House in LA for 60 bottles of 2012 Scarecrow.

Instead, this year’s most expensive bottling was bought by a private Swiss consortium headed by Gregor Greber who paid $115,000 for Brand Napa Valley’s 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon Double Barrel Elelvation 1588, sourced from Pritchard Hill fruit and made by one of Napa’s most talented winemakers, Philippe Melka.

Brand Napa Valley proprietor Ed Fitts said, ‘I am really in a daze. I hoped we’d do at least as well as last year when we raised $70,000. But to be the top lot is beyond fantastic.’

Premiere Napa Valley Auction sales 2010-15


Economy

The Premier Napa Valley auction is a reflection of the US economy combined with the state of the wine industry. ‘It reflects reality more than many of the well-known charity auctions because the people who buy the wines also sell them to their private customers. So it is business,’ said Jim Gordon, editor of Wines and Vines.

‘But there is also an element of showmanship and publicity involved amongst the buyers. And of course, it’s very good for the reputation of the wineries who get top dollar prices.’

Napa 2013 vintage ‘flirting with perfection’

Once again, many of the Napa’s most iconic names weren’t in attendance. But this year’s auction was undoubtedly boosted by the widely praised 2013 vintage in the Napa Valley.

‘The 2011 vintage is being sold now and hasn’t got great reviews from everyone,’ said Ryan Coseboom of online retailer Porthos. ‘So the fact that 2013 is on offer here is a significant factor. I am super excited about 2013 – and the 2012. These back-to-back vintages are driving the California wine business.’

Other wineries which did well included Chateau Boswell, Fairchild Napa Valley, Gandona Estate and newcomer Memento Mori, whose Cabernet Sauvignon went for $80,000 in just its second PNV appearance. ‘2013 is truly incredible, said Memento Mori winemaker Sam Kaplan. ‘A lot of the wines being offered today are flirting with perfection.’

The boutique operation from Oakville used fruit from the Dr Crane Vineyard for the five case lot. ‘These are the best wineries in the Napa, so to get this price is incredibly exciting for the brand and a huge validation,’ said Kaplan.

With an average wholesale price of $286 per bottle, it remains to be seen what will these wines cost when they are sold to consumers. Many of the wines won’t be released until 2016 or 2017. Consumers who are interested in procuring the wines for their cellars can find information on the wines at premiernapawines.com.

This year’s top bidder was Total Wine and More from LA. ‘We are very excited about the lots we were able to obtain today. We can’t wait to show them to our customers,’ said Cristina Pearce of Total Wine.

The money raised goes to supporting the Napa Valley Vintners Association’s mission to promoting, enhancing the Napa Valley Appellation.

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Written by John Stimpfig