Cash, corks fly at wine auction
More than $6 million raised; total falls for second straight
Wall Street be damned, bidders attending the 22nd annual Napa Valley Wine Auction at St. Helena's Meadowood Resort spent freely Saturday afternoon, ponying up more than $6 million at the world's largest charity wine event.
Nevertheless, stock market woes and the shaky economy may have been responsible for bringing auction revenues in at $1.3 million less than last year -- the second year in a row that austerity in the marketplace has been reflected in lower auction totals.
In light of the shaky economy, members of the sponsoring Napa Valley Vintners Association had been unsure right up to auction time what mood returning bidders would be in.
When veteran auctioneer Fritz Hatton brought down the gavel on the auction's first lot -- becoming the day's honorary auction chairman and being invited back as VIP guest next year -- he had to coax the first dozen bids.
But within a few minutes, bidders were stretching paddles skyward, and long-term auctiongoer Raymond Tye, of West Bridgewater, Mass., earned the honor with a top bid of $100,000.
After a succession of bids that topped the $50,000 mark, Robert Mondavi, co-chair of last year's event, leaned over to a couple of reporters to remark: "Gee, I thought everybody was broke."
Vintner Bob Pecota, who co-chaired the 2002 auction with daughters Kara and Andrea, said earlier this week that no one knew what to expect in terms of bid prices.
"The important thing is that everybody had a good time," he said at the close of Saturday's event. "And we are grateful for every dollar we can raise for the community. Spirits were high, colors were vibrant and people enjoyed our hospitality."
In remarks delivered to some 1,500 bidders, guests, media and vintners attending the post-auction dinner, Pecota thanked more than 1,000 volunteers who staff the event as well as returning bidders contributing to the auction's bottom line. Pecota also introduced Bob Trinchero, who will co-chair the 2003 auction with brother Roger and sister Vera.
One-fifth of this year's 138 auction lots brought in $50,000 or more each.
The most paid for an auction lot this year was $320,000 by auction regular David Doyle, of Newport Coast. Doyle was top bidder for a gargantuan lot from Oakville Winegrowers. The collective of vintners and growers offered 26 magnums of wine, including the only bottle of the cult Screaming Eagle cabernet offered at this year's event, along with a host of dinners, lunches, brunches, tastings, tours and accommodations.
Two bidders paid slightly less -- $300,000 each -- for widely acclaimed and hard-to-find wines from Harlan Estate and Diamond Creek Vineyards. Perennial top 10 bidder Red Adams, a mover-and-shaker in the Louisiana gas and oil business, was successful in his efforts to secure nine magnums of Harlan Estate's Bordeaux blend, a vertical collection (1990-98) displayed in a lush leather case.
Ona Roth -- who describes herself as "a Santa Barbara person who loves life" -- took home a rare collection of Diamond Creek cabernet sauvignon from the tiny Lake Vineyard owned by Al and Boots Brounstein. The lot included the only bottle of the first vintage remaining in the winery cellar, from the 1978 harvest, seven magnums from vintages in both the '80s and '90s, plus one of only two salmanazars (9 liters) from the '92 vintage.
"It's one of the best wines made," Roth said of the Lake cabernet. "I come to drink wine, not collect it. In fact, I'm going to spend the rest of my life drinking good wine."
Roth said contributing to the Napa Valley Wine Auction "is my way of giving back to the area where I grew up and where I raised my children." Roth said she spent her childhood in and around Santa Rosa.
Like mother like daughter, Denise Roth, who serves as vice chairman of the San Francisco Art Commission, spent $115,000 for a rare double magnum of 1996 Colgin Cellars cabernet sauvignon offered along with a hand-engraved English crystal decanter big enough to hold the entire contents of the three-liter bottle. That was the fifth highest amount spent on an auction lot Saturday.
Fourth on the list was the bountiful lot provided by Stag's Leap Wine Cellars, which went to Gary Rieschel, of Mountain View, for $130,000. It included a matching contribution to a Statue of Liberty endowment, a tasting of historic Napa Valley wines, dinner in the winery's caves for six, accommodations, plus five magnums and one salmanazar of the highly praised Cask 23 cabernet sauvignon.
The smattering of celebrities attending this year's auction included football legend Joe Montana, 49ers coach Steve Mariucci and comic Rob Schneider. Seen at an auction preview was Olympic gold medal sprinter Michael Johnson.
Reflecting the times in which we live, a half dozen bidders requested their paddles be listed with fictitious names.