Not a Wine Mogul? No Problem! Insiders' Tips to Napa Valley
By G.E. Anderson
Guests sample wine during the barrel auction event of Auction Napa Valley at the Charles Krug Winery Friday. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)
Auction Napa Valley — the hottest event in the winemaking world — brought in a record high of $18.7 million this year for a variety of local charities. Inside an ineffectively air conditioned tent on the grounds of Meadowood Napa Valley resort in St. Helena, California, however, water was a more precious commodity than wine.
It was as if bidders were waving their paddles just to stay cool. Attendees bid on everything from world cruises in privately owned mega-yachts ($250,000) to Oscar party passes ($420,000). One winner walked away with dinner reservations with Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis for $150,000. Another paid $240,000 for the chance to meet Heidi Klum. This year’s top bid of $600,000 was for a founding membership at Promontory — Bill Harlan’s next winery, which doesn’t yet exist.
“It’s crazy — people are buying ideas,” remarked California’s Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, founder of PlumpJack and Odette and Cade wineries, who was on hand to witness his offering of a vacation package to Napa and Tuscany sell for $150,000. “But it’s all for a good cause.”
Odette Estate, founded by California Lt. Governor Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom. (Courtesy: Odette Estate)
The bidding was so heated that only two of the 50 lots up for auction sold for less than $100,000. As a first-time attendee without six figures of disposable income, my mission was to find out what Napa’s elite locals do for fun when they’re not attending gala auctions, or at least what they might recommend to their friends. Here’s what some of them had to say:
1. Visit in the off-season
“Everybody wants to come at harvest time, but in April and May, the grapes are just starting to grow, it’s a lot quieter, and the weather’s great,” says David Duncan, CEO of Silver Oak and Twomey Cellars. (June, it should be noted, might be pushing it, as temperatures in Napa soared to 100 degrees the day after the auction.)
Bidding at this year’s Barrel Auction. (Photo: Bob McClenahan for Napa Valley Vintners)