Where the Label is Code for One-of-a-Kind Wines
Premiere Napa Valley gives us all yet another reason to love Napa Valley. For the past 17 years, Napa Valley Vintners have held a special, trade-only event to raise money to benefit the Napa Valley community in terms of promoting, protecting, and enhancing its appellation and wines. About 220 vineyards participate, offering incredibly small lots of between 60 to 240 bottles of wine specially crafted for the occasion—a solid guarantee that the auction is the only place in the world where you can acquire these exclusive wines.
A Backstage Pass to Napa
Attracting more than 1,000 restaurateurs, wine merchants, distributors and importers, and wine media, all eager to taste and bid on these one-of- a-kind barrel lots as well as mingle with the winemakers, Premiere Napa Valley offers a unique social advantage. “It’s a chance to connect with our vintner friends and remind ourselves why this is such a great business,” explains Mark Pope, founder and CEO of Bounty Hunter Wine Bar & Smokin’ BBQ, located in downtown Napa Valley. Glenn Knight, a senior buyer at the Wine House in Los Angeles, concurs: “What first drew me to this event was the ability to meet and greet with all the winemakers and owners from some of the finest wineries in Napa.
A Story in Every Bottle
The family of Andrew Hoxsey, a fourth-generation grape grower and managing partner of the Napa Wine Company, started harvesting grapes back in 1903. His family, the Pelissas, moved to Napa Valley in the late 1890s around the same time as the Del Bondios. Today, Hoxsey and the Del Bondios’ son, Bryan Del Bondio, president of Markham Vineyards, collaborate yearly for their Premiere Napa Valley auction lot. The Meritage crafted from Ghost Block and Markham Vinyards demonstrates a rich tapestry of family history that spans more than a century, intertwining the vines from both vineyards indisputably. “We come to this relationship from a number of different sides, but it’s all still family,” says Hoxsey. “The uniqueness of our collaboration for the auction is our guarantee that you will never see this wine anywhere else on the face of the earth, because it is from two different producers who ‘never the twain shall meet,’ except for this event.”
All in the Approach
Winemaker Denis Malbec, who crafted three lots for this year’s auction—including one from his own wine, Notre Vin—adds a personal touch, likening his efforts to a piece of art. “I always associate two different brains with winemakers: one is scientific, technical, and logical; the other is more artistic, inventive, and creative. For Premiere Napa Valley, we can let our imagination and creativity go as far as we want. I sincerely let my ‘artsy’ brain work alone. The more extreme the blend is, the more excitement we warrant during the tasting and auction, and the more money we can raise for our local community.”
“I still remember when we purchased a Chateau Montelena lot one year,” muses Knight, “that was 100 percent cabernet franc. They had never produced a cabernet franc before, and we sold out of this wine very quickly because of its uniqueness and the pedigree of the winery.” Single- varietal wines from vineyards acknowledged for blends, and blends from those better known for their varietal wines. “Another favorite I bid on was the Shafer Cabernet Sauvignon Sunspot Vineyard,” adds Knight. “This is the main vineyard that the winery uses for their famous Hillside Select. This was an easy sell because the winery never produces a single- vineyard cabernet.” Whatever the angle, the results are the same: artisan wines, handcrafted with equal parts skill and passion. And the proof can be found on the auction floor, where “every year the average lot price rises,” observes Knight, who placed the highest bid of the event to purchase the Scarecrow Wine lot for an astounding $260,000. Seventy-year old vines from the J.J. Cohn vineyard prompted him to exclaim: “We were willing to pay what we did for this wine because of the beautiful expression of its lineage.” This year, the average auction price per bottle was $283.
Vintners and purchasers alike agree that the quality of the wines continue to get better. “Premiere Napa Valley certainly challenges the participating wineries to bring their A-game,” says Pope. In the name of a good cause, Napa Valley Vintners rise to the occasion, case after case.