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Record breaking auction was only one highlight of Napa's "Premiere Week"

Published:  27 February, 2015

Last week's Premiere Napa Valley barrel tasting and live auction, held at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in Saint Helena, set the stage for bidding on a unique and highly-selective range of the appellation's finest wines resulting in a new record of $6 million USD in fundraising for local charities.

Around 700 local and international members of the wine trade tasted 225 lots of one-of-a-kind wines from the valley's most prestigious estates, providing opportunity for long-standing brands to showcase innovation, and new, up and coming producers to gain some traction in the market.

The event is hosted by the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV) as a trade-only counterpart to its distinguished charity event Auction Napa Valley.

Celebrating its 19th year, top bids went to BRAND Napa Valley, Chateau Boswell Winery, and Fairchild Napa Valley.

The top bidding trade accounts were: Total Wine & More, Cliffewood Wine Syndicate, Gary's Wine & Marketplace and Wine Library.

The barrel tasting and live auction signalled the close of a "Premiere Week," a week-long series of tastings and events throughout the Napa Valley attended by Jancis Robinson MW and Neil Beckett, including: the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers at Meadowood Napa Valley, the Vintage Perspective and Retrospective Tasting featuring wines from 2003 to 2012, as well as numerous winery-hosted tastings and events throughout the Napa Valley.

Christi Ficeli, owner of Goosecross Cellars in Yountville, confessed that the winery is 28 years old, but people say they have never heard of it. "We wanted to grow, so we joined the NVV, and now we are here," she said. "The networking ability is fantastic... I appreciate what the NVV are doing. It is a huge organisation that is working to protect my brand. Everything they do for the valley is very impressive as well."

Veteran producers, many of whom have participated in the event since its first year, emphasised the elements that differentiate this one from other industry events. "From a winemaking perspective it is very good, you get to see some very unique and special lots," said Bruce Cakebread, president and COO of Cakebread Cellars in Rutherford. "From the trade perspective it is just a great opportunity to get together."

Cakebread also commented on how the event differs from the NVV's Auction Napa Valley: "Premiere's live auction is much different from Auction Napa Valley because it is all business. The bidders know the prices they want; it is all very exciting."

Not all Napa Cabernet

Whilst Cabernet Sauvignon was the top choice for the highest earning lots, other Napa Valley producers decided to go against the grain and present some stand-out white varieties as competitive alternatives for bidders.

Among these was the 2014 Great Chicago Showdown Chardonnay by Grgich Hills Estate, 120 bottles made exclusively by winemaker Kevin Vecchiarelli for the event. Vecchiarelli remarked that although the winery previously offered a Petit Verdot for their annual wine lot, this is the third year that Grgich Hills has showed a Chardonnay. "We always got lost in the crowd with the red," he explained. "And we are a white wine house."

Hudson Vineyards also chose to move away from participants' strong interest in red blends with its 2013 Alexander's Field Chardonnay. Shifting gears from the Cabernet Franc that was their 2014 auction lot, owner and winemaker Lee Hudson said the move was made "so as not to repeat ourselves. We wanted to do something new."

Other lots from the white wine camp included: Lail Vineyards 2013 Henry VI Sauvignon Blanc and Lang & Reed Company's Chenin Blanc, as well as sparkling wines from well-regarded producers Schramsberg and Chandon.

There's no doubt that Cabernet Sauvignon reigns supreme in the Napa Valley, but in a trade tasting such as this exciting innovations can also be found in Chardonnay and bubbles.