Premiere Napa Valley 2019 auction fetches almost $3.7m

This year’s Premiere Napa Valley auction has fetched nearly $3.7 million, short of last year’s total but still seen as a vote of confidence for the 2017 Cabernet vintage.

Hundreds of bidders packed the top floor at the Culinary Institute of America’s grand Greystone campus building on Saturday (24 February) to vie for a series of one-of-a-kind lots in the Premiere Napa Valley 2019 auction.

Nearly $3.7 million was raised, said trade body Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) following the event.

That is lower than the $4.1m achieved in 2018. The auction’s record stands at $6m, set in 2015 and reflecting the excitement around the 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon vintage.

This year’s sale saw 187 lots offered to the assembled trade bidders – 30 fewer than in 2018, according to NVV. It added that the average price per bottle was up slightly on last year’s sale, however.

Top lot in 2019 came from Silver Oak, which saw its 20-case offering of Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 sell for $140,000. The wine is 90% Cabernet and 10% Merlot and was expected to be released in January 2021.

Silver Oak also claimed top lot in 2018, when the same amount of a wine from its 2016 vintage sold for $110,000.

Premiere’s ethos is that wineries offer a one-off wine style to trade-only bidders, which will then sell on the wines and may see their value increase as a collectors’ item. All lots are between 60 and 240 bottles and are signed by producers.

Schramsberg, which is known for putting up mature sparkling wines in the auction, offered one of the more intriguing lots of the weekend. Its 60 bottles-worth of J Shram 1998 – late disgorged – sold for $24,000, equivalent to $400 per bottle.

Linda Reiff, president and CEO of the NVV, said, ‘We are very grateful for the support of our longtime bidders, as well as the 14 new successful bidders that acquired Premiere Napa Valley wines for the first time today.’

Around 72% of the lots offered this year were from 2017,  mostly still-in-barrel Cabernet Sauvignon, and this provided some fresh insight into a vintage that was forged in the face of some of California’s deadliest wildfires on record.

The wines on show at CIA were generally well received – already relatively approachable in several cases – and a number of producers reminded guests that most grapes had been picked prior to the fires.

‘There was pre-fire and post-fire,’ said Michael Honig, owner of Honig Vineyard and Winery. ‘Vintage conditions were exceptional before the fire,’ he told Decanter.com at a press tasting on Friday 23 February.

Most of the winery’s vineyards were unscathed, but it sold off a portion of 2017 Cabernet Sauvignon from some vines near to the fires, because ‘it wasn’t worth the risk [to quality]’, Honig said.

Stories from the wildfires inevitably came up during the pre-auction tasting at CIA.

While firefighters naturally prioritised saving lives and homes, several winemakers also faced problems accessing vineyards and had to deal with power outages in the cellar. A few wineries suffered significant damage to buildings.

Steven Burgess, president of Burgess Cellars on Howell Mountain and also a volunteer firefighter, told Decanter.com of how he helped try to contain blazes in the area for more than 50 hours straight, taking it in turns with fire crew colleagues to have 15-minute naps for respite.

‘Then I went to a trade show for three days. I slept when I came home,’ he said.