Why do I believe that everyone should go to Auction Napa Valley at least once?
Put simply, it is one of the most fun wine parties in the world; imagine an entire weekend of fabulous eating and drinking with a chance to play insider in one of the planet’s most beautiful wine regions. And all the money raised goes to local charities.
That’s my takeaway from the 39th annual fete, which raised nearly $12m earlier this month.
Inside this year’s Auction Napa Valley
The glitzy centerpiece of the weekend is always Saturday’s live auction at Meadowood Resort, held in a huge white tent that could hold a circus.
This year’s celebrity highlight, pop singer-songwriter Katy Perry, belted out her popular hits, including Roar and Firework, to start the bidding.
Thirty-odd lots of exclusive experiences, from exotic travel to rare wines, drew hundreds of thousands of dollars, plus cheers, fluttering pink and purple confetti, and flying gold ribbons.
But the event isn’t all stretch limos and splashing out big bucks.
For a non-bidding wine lover the treat is sampling dozens of superb wines and hobnobbing with winemakers like Olivier Berrouet, of Chateau Petrus, who was in the audience because he’d donated a dinner at Petrus as part of the Rudd Estate lot.
He shared a bottle of a stunning 1990 Petrus, while Paul Roberts of Colgin Cellars was splashing out several excellent vintages of Colgin Cabernet.
And the live auction is only one delicious part of an event lasting several days.
Intimate dinners on Thursday and Friday nights showcase vintners’ homes and wineries, as well as older vintages of their wines.
One night I dined at Kelly Fleming, a stone winery tucked into a 121-hectare property in Calistoga backed by hillsides of oak trees, where I savoured their floral, salty Sauvignon Blanc and, with crispy duck, their powerful, dense and smoky Cabernet Sauvignon.
Another evening found me at Ovid, high on remote Pritchard Hill, sipping the first vintage of their plush, dark Cabernet blend and a new white blend of eight varieties, while oohing and aahing over a panoramic view of the entire valley.
Friday afternoon’s barrel auction in the new barrel cellar at Louis M. Martini winery, which looks like a posh hotel and just opened to the public, was a taster’s paradise.
It featured 112 wines from top Napa estates, mostly 2017 Cabernets made especially for the event, all still ageing in barrel.
The top ten bidders for each lot in the eventual auction got one case of wine each. Besides the top lot, a special cuvee from VGS Chateau Potelle, I loved the savoury, luscious 2018 Favia Cabernet from the cool Coombsville AVA.
Outside, under umbrellas and ancient olive trees, as a jazzy band played, people sampled dozens more wines and feasted on signature dishes from the valley’s top restaurants, like Napa Valley Bistro’s Ahi and Mango Poke before hitting the dessert table of chocolates.
An e-auction also offered less expensive items, such as private winery lunches, tours, cooking classes and guesthouse stays. This year, my picks were the chance to help harvest at Cain vineyards and a blending session at Meteor Vineyards with star winemaker Dawnine Dyer.
On Saturday, at the pre-auction reception, I grabbed a glass of Kenzo Estate’s subtle Sauvignon Blanc and wandered the creative displays for each live lot in tents spread out on Meadowood’s green lawn. Huge pans of paella beckoned the hungry, anxious to chow down before show time.
Afterwards, we streamed out of the tent for a family-style barbeque dinner under the stars and mixed and mingled with winemakers and winery owners.
Celebrity chef Ayesha Curry provided the recipes, but didn’t turn up; she was at the NBA playoffs with her husband, and Golden State Warriors all-star player, Stephen Curry.
Then it was time to catch an Uber to hot St. Helena restaurant The Charter Oak for the after-party, where drinking, music, eating and dancing went on and on and on.
You get the picture; it was a weekend of food and wine decadence.
The Napa Valley Vintners are already planning Auction Napa Valley 2020, set to run between 4 and 7 June. Since that will be the event’s 40th year, it’s bound to be even more special.