Napa Valley wine auction breaks record, raises $6 million (Video)

Annual Premiere Napa Valley wine auction again breaks record. $6 million raised, with top lot Brand Napa Valley going for $115,000, or about $1,900 per bottle.

  • Annual Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction raised $6 million in support of the non-profit trade organization Napa Valley Vintners.
  • Average wholesale price per bottle: $286.
  • Top earning lots: BRAND Napa Valley, Chateua Boswell Winery, Fairchild Napa Valley, Gandona Estate, Shafer Vineyards, Pulido-Walker, Memento Mori, Silver Oak Cellars, and Rombauer Vineyards.
  • 17 of the top 20 lots were Cabernet Sauvignons.
  • The top lot from 2014, Scarecrow, did not have an entry in this year's auction.
Review by Clinton Stark

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Premiere Napa Valley Wine Auction
Hammer to fall! Auctioneer Fritz Hatton once again presided over the Premiere Napa Valley wine auction. This year the event raised $6 million for the non-profit Napa Valley Vintners trade organization.

When the hammer fell for the final time records were, once again, broken. Final tally: $6 million (USD). That’s how much this year’s Premiere Napa Valley wine auction raised. All told, 225 lots would receive frenetic bidding action (from 70 successful bidders) within a standing room only crowd gathered for the annual event at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena, California.

If Premiere is any barometer of the overall market for fine California wines (in past years I’ve suggested exactly that), then 2015 is looking to be in good shape. Despite a significant (and costly for many wineries) earthquake last year, and an ongoing drought, it would appear the appetite for Napa wine is as robust as ever. Literal case in point: a five-case lot of 2013 Brand Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon went for $115,000–or, just a touch over $1,900 per bottle. By my count, at least, I did not see any per bottle pricing match last year’s $4,300 for Celia Welch’s Scarecrow Cab, but there was still plenty of vigorous, exciting bidding action.

Premiere Napa Valley Chair Michael Scholz of St. Supery Estate Winery
Premiere Napa Valley 2015 co-chair Michael Scholz (St. Supery Estate Vineyards & Winery) discusses the success of 2015 and shares his advice to the incoming Chair of Premiere Napa Valley 2016: “Strap yourself in and buckle up!”

The gregarious and seemingly always smiling Tim Mondavi enjoyed a strong result with his Continuum label. His five-case lot sold for $70,000, a nod perhaps to a strong pedigree for fine-making in a fabled family running back to the early days of Napa.

Premiere Napa Valley 2015 - Culinary Institute of America
The scene at the Culinary Institute of America as frenetic bidding began for the annual Premiere Napa Valley wine auction.

Small wineries experienced nice gains too. Sciandri Family Vineyards, for example, saw a nice uptick in results from their 10-case lot (#091) of ’13 Cabernet Sauvignon (Coombsville) by winemaker Don Baker. The five varietal blend took in $15,000, up 20% year-over-year from the previous year’s auction.

Once again, the room was packed, which only added to the energy and drama.

Approximately 700 guests–mostly trade, media and those from the wine industry–crowded into the upper floor of the Culinary Institute of America. Strategically, the format is magic. Earlier in the day, a barrel tasting takes place down in the Vintner’s Hall of Fame, where winemakers pour out barrel samples, talk about the vintage (mostly 2013), and offer all manner of prognostication and opinion on where the wine market is headed. It’s a glorious opportunity to not only taste some of Napa’s best, but also to get one-on-one time with those making it happen. Elias Fernandez, winemaker for the storied Shafer Vineyards, told Stark Insider that in his 30 years of winemaking, “2013 is the best vintage, comparable even to 1978.”

Premiere Napa Valley 2016 Chair Matt Wood of Domaine Chandon
Loni Stark of Stark Insider attempts to get 2016 Chair Matt Wood (Domaine Chandon) to give up a secret or two on next year’s Premiere Napa Valley wine auction. One change: the future chair’s lot of wine will go last. “Why not?” he says. “You’re going to be here right through to the end anyways.” He says the 2014 vintage is also looking to be high caliber.

Premiere Napa Valley wine auction resultsPremiere Napa Valley Wine Auction – Tracking Annual Results


Premiere Napa Valley - Historical Auction Results 2011-2015

2015 $6 million, 1.7% y/y

2014 $5.9 million, 94% y/y

2013 $3.04 million, 0% y/y

2012 $3.1 million, 29% y/y

2011 $2.4 million

Known as “Premiere Week”, the auction capped off a week-long series of events across Napa, that included several tastings, seminars, “Sommelier Napa Valley”, a wine writers symposium at Meadowood, and various wine events at local restaurants.

Premiere Napa Valley smashes record, raises $6 million
Smashing records: Loni Stark celebrates the success of Premiere Napa Valley alongside Highway 29. (What? You expected something literal here on Stark Insider?!)

Auction proceeds benefit the non-profit Napa Valley Vintners, a trade organization representing approximately 500 member wineries.

MORE: Premiere Napa Valley Wine Auction videos

VIDEO: Inside the Napa Gras! party at Raymond Vineyards

VIDEO: Winemaker Celia Welch talks about $4,300 Bottles of Scarecrow Cult Cabernet: “It was just a crazy price.”

VIDEO: Behind-the-scenes at the Premiere Napa Valley wine auction

Of course, in true infamous Stark Insider style, we took the moment to celebrate NVV’s $6 million haul,  a glorious day in Napa hanging with friends, tasting ridiculously luxurious, elegant wines. On the way back to Silicon Valley we pulled over to the shoulder alongside Highway 29, near Grgich and … and, well… had a smashing good time…

WATCH: Premiere Napa Valley 2015 a Smashing Success

Clinton shoots videos for Stark Insider. San Francisco Bay Area arts, Ingmar Bergman and French New Wave, and chasing the perfect home espresso shot 25 seconds at a time (and failing). Peloton: ClintTheMint. Camera: Video Gear