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Inside the 2016 Auction Napa Valley

'Hot' is probably the best word for this year’s Auction Napa Valley—not just in terms of the bidding, which raised a healthy $14.3 million dollars for charity.

‘Hot’ is probably the best word for this year’s Auction Napa Valley—not just in terms of the bidding, which raised a healthy $14.3 million dollars for charity, but regarding the Valley itself, where temperatures peaked at a searing 99˚ F (37˚ celsius) during Friday’s barrel auction at Robert Mondavi Winery.

Temperatures cooled somewhat for the Saturday live auction, the main event of the weekend, which was undoubtedly a relief for chef Francis Mallman’s team of cooks, who oversaw a distinctly Game-of-Thrones-like display of 8’ tall wire domes from which 750 pounds of rib roasts dangled over pits of hot coals.

‘The vintners and I convinced Bill Harlan to dig a 100’ by 10’ trench through the Meadowood golf course,’ honorary auction chairman Agustin Huneeus, Jr. observed. ‘How we did that, I’m still not sure.’

Prior to the live auction, the general feeling was that this year’s results would be flat or slightly down from last year’s total of $15.8 million, which proved to be true. But despite the lower overall figure, competition for the top lots was high.

A 50th-year anniversary lot from Robert Mondavi Winery, including a party for 50 people at The French Laundry, shot up to its final price of $520,000 in under a minute. Bidding was similarly fierce for the ‘True Warriors of Wine’ joint lot offered by Amuse Bouche Winery and Tusk Estates.

Briana Marie Photography for Napa Valley Vintners

Briana Marie Photography for Napa Valley Vintners

A Golden State Warriors NBA diamond-encrusted championship ring plus a 6-liter, one-of-a-kind winemaking team-up between star winemakers Heidi Barrett and Philippe Melka, Center Bank, helped drive bidding up to $520,000 for the lot, which was then matched for a total of $1.04 million.

‘We were thrilled,’ Amuse Bouche co-owner John Schwarz commented after the event. ‘Traditionally sports lots don’t go as high as trips, for instance, but I think having a never-before wine made by both Heidi and Philippe pushed us over the top.’

The presence of supermodel Kate Upton, who also bid on the lot, may have helped, too.

The top lot, Staglin Family Vineyard’s ‘Into Africa, Incomparably’—a multi-day luxury tour of South Africa ending up with a four-day safari—went for $1.05 million. Shannon Staglin, the winery’s president, remarked, ‘We are thrilled our lot could inspire such over-the-top generosity of the winning bidders to benefit our community, and want to thank our contributing vintners Mike Ratcliff, Charles Banks and others for making an amazing South African experience possible. We’re truly fortunate to be able to share our philosophy of “great win for great causes” with a community of vintners around the world.’

As Staglin implies, despite all the glitz of the event, charity is truly the focus. Huneeus says, ‘The Napa Valley Vintners have contributed over 150 million dollars over the life of the auction to local charities—healthcare for migrant farmworkers, mental health, early education for kids.

After the 2014 earthquake here, for instance, a lot of winery workers had nowhere to go; their houses were red-tagged; they couldn’t enter them. The Napa Vintners opened up a fund two days after the earthquake to help local employees who’d been displaced—that’s the kind of thing that comes directly out of this auction.’

Following the live auction, the 900-plus guests partied to the sounds of Los Van Van, the Grammy-award-winning Cuban dance band. ‘I really wanted to infuse this year’s event with my cultural upbringing,’ said Huneeus.

‘That’s why we brought in Francis Mallman, that’s why we brought in Los Van Van, that’s why people were greeted with a Pisco punch as they came in. We really wanted to infuse it with Hispanic culture because we’re a big part of Napa Valley, too.’

There was little question that Huneeus had achieved his goal, as people salsa-danced the rest of the night away.


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