I fully subscribe to the axiom that life is too short to drink bad wine. “Bad” is, of course, a subjective term and certainly subject to financial considerations. But one foolproof way to drink really good wine is to go to the Napa Valley wine auction, which I was fortunate to do at the beginning of the month.
To say it’s a four-day party is like saying Donald Trump tends to exaggerate. For wine and food lovers, Auction Napa Valley is an over-the-top, liver-damaging, scale-busting extravaganza. From the Thursday evening Welcome Parties to the Farewell Brunch and Open Houses on Sunday, the only break in the action was to sleep or work out in preparation for the next event.
Surprisingly, my least favorite activity was the auction itself. Since we weren’t going to spend $250,000 or more on a lot (some of which went for as high as $800,000), it did drag on through the afternoon, though a surprise visit by John Legend provided a jolt of excitement. The auction was sandwiched in between a market-style lunch, with food provided by Michael Chiarello and a banquet dinner orchestrated by Chef Pierre Gagnaire of France and produced by the Meadowood kitchen. Both meals were well-executed though unremarkable.
The star of the weekend was the Barrel Auction, which this year was held at Hall Winery in their gleaming new facility. More than 100 vintners bring a barrel of an unreleased wine for guests to taste and then bid on to secure a case once the wine is bottled. It’s all handled by mobile bidding, with TV screens to follow the action. If you get bumped from the top ten, the only way to re-enter the bidding is to outbid the person in the #1 position. Bidding lasts all afternoon, and it becomes a game to try to be one of the last of the top 10 bidders to win a case, rather than ending up at the top of the list where the case will cost more.
In addition to the barrel tasting and auction, guests can wander the grounds of the winery and enjoy food from top Napa restaurants while sampling even more wine. After three hours of alternately lining our stomachs with food and tasting wines that we had never before had the opportunity to try, we cried “Uncle” and headed back to the hotel for a nap so we could enjoy the Vintner-hosted dinner at Pride Mountain to which we had been assigned.
Though I love Pride Mountain wine, I’d never before visited the vineyard, in part because it’s at the top of a long and winding road up Spring Mountain. Half of the vineyard is in Sonoma County and half is in Napa Valley, which makes it somewhat of a novelty. It was worth the drive to experience the view from on high. The dinner that night was in the Summit Room which opens up onto a beautiful terrace that allowed us to take in the stunning vistas. With our multi-course dinner we sipped on the full array of fine wines Pride offers, and even took a tour of the cave between courses.
The night before we went to the St. Supéry vineyard for a Welcome Party. We sat below a huge old tree in front of a beautiful Victorian house, and enjoyed a lovely meal with wine pairings. The fun continued with live music and dancing.
On the last day we went to a farewell brunch at Quintessa Vineyard, where we had breakfast tacos from a food truck, pizza from Redd Wood’s mobile pizza oven, and freshly picked fruit from Quintessa’s garden and orchard.
As if that wasn’t enough, we headed over to Alpha Omega to one of the Sunday Open Houses, where we enjoyed a tasting of Alpha Omega wines and had some Kansas City-style barbecue from the winery’s owner, who happens to be a certified Kansas City BBQ judge.
We never saw a cloud the entire time we were in Napa, which made the whole experience that much more special.
Would I do it again? Absolutely… next year!