This past week wine buyers from around the world descended upon Napa Valley to attend the 2022 Premiere Napa Auction, featuring small lots of unique wines from recent vintages. Sotheby’s opened the bidding online on Wednesday, but many buyers elected to attend the live auction this past Saturday, to raise their paddles in person. Safety protocols were in place, with Covid tests required before entering many of the wine tasting venues.
One of the highest selling lots was 60 bottles of Shafer Vineyards 2021 Cabernet Sauvignon at $75,600, or $1,260 per 750 ml bottle. Other high bids came in for 60 bottles of Heitz Cellar 2019 Cabernet Sauvignon at $54,000, or $900 per 750 ml bottle, and 60 bottles of Spottswoode Estate 2020 Cabernet Sauvignon at $41,040, or $684 per 750 ml bottle. All of the proceeds go to fund programs to protect and promote Napa Valley.
“My team and I try to attend Premiere Napa every year,” stated Gary Fisch, founder and CEO of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace, with multiple wine shops in New Jersey and in Napa Valley. “It is exciting because you can bid on unique blends or wine styles that are only available once a year in small lots. Last year we bid online, but it is great to be here in person again.”
“My customers enjoy the opportunity to purchase these rare bottles,” said Justin Meyer, wine buyer with The Wine Thief Group located near Chicago. “Napa Cabernets are one of our top sellers.” In addition to the auction, Premiere participants were invited to a series of wine-tasting events at different wineries and venues throughout the valley during the week.
Wineries Presented Diverse Varietals – Beyond Napa Cab
Though Napa Valley is known worldwide for its Cabernet Sauvignon based wines, some of the wineries decided to showcase other varietals that grow in the valley, such as Riesling, Albarino, Sauvignon Gris, Malbec, and Syrah. “We decided to offer a 60 bottle lot of our 2021 Albarino,” reported Ana Diogo-Draper, Director of Winemaking with Artesa Vineyards. “The grapes are from a 35 year old block and were fermented in concrete tank.” The result was a highly aromatic light-bodied white wine with notes of tangerine and spice.
Riesling is another grape varietal that is usually not associated with Cabernet dominant Napa Valley, but Trefethen Winery has been producing Riesling wine since the 1970’s. “We are one of the few wineries in Napa Valley that didn’t pull out our Riesling vines to plant Cabernet,” said Hailey Trefethen. “This 2021 vintage lot is special because it is made from a 1997 planting, and will develop in complexity and age beautifully. We enjoy participating in Premiere because it gives us a chance to play and create unique lots like this one.”
Auction Featured 3 Vintages, Including Wines from the 2020 Wildfire Year
A surprising aspect of the auction was that 34 wineries featured lots from the 2020 vintage, when wildfires tore through Napa Valley, and many wineries decided not to produce wine that year. But apparently there were parts of Napa Valley that were not impacted by the smoke, and some wineries – especially those featuring white or sparkling grapes that were harvested before the fires – were able to produce high-quality wines in 2020.
“2020 was a great vintage, and there were parts of the valley that were not impacted much by smoke, such as Carneros” said Kale Anderson, winemaker and owner of Kale Wines. “I actually harvested this 2020 Syrah the day the Glass Fire started, and I made sure to get it tested for smoke taint, but there wasn’t any.” Indeed, the wine tasted very pure and elegant, with dark concentrated fruit and structured tannins.
“We believe that the 2020 vintage is very special,” said Teresa Wall, Senior Director of Communications with Napa Valley Vintners. She explained that since there was so little wine produced, and those wineries who did make wine were very careful about what they released, the 2020 vintage could prove to be a collector’s item in the future. Indeed, during a webinar on Wednesday, moderated by Karen MacNeil, author of the Wine Bible, guest panelists commented on the three vintages featured at this year’s Premiere auction:
- 2019 – A warmer year yielding more structured, powerful wines with concentrated opulent fruit and good complexity. “Energy, is the word I’ve been using for the 2019 vintage,” reported Andy Erickson, winemaker with Favia. This was in contrast to 2018, which is considered to be a very high-quality vintage, with excellent balance of fruit, acid, and tannins, but showing more elegance and finesse with long aging capability.
- 2020 – A dry warm year producing rich, well textured wines with vibrant color and flavors. “Any winemaker who put wine in the bottle for 2020 – or is about to – it is something to be incredibly proud of,” said Marla Carroll, winemaker with Antinori – Antica Estate. “We produced our sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, and some pinot noir which was harvested before the fires, and are very happy with the results.” The two wildfires that hit Napa Valley in late August and mid-September, at the same time that Covid had caused many tasting rooms to close, made 2020 a very challenging vintage, with some wineries electing not to make wine.
- 2021 – Considered to be a near perfect, though smaller vintage, 2021 had mild temperatures, but very little rainfall due to a second year of drought. The resulting wines are aromatic, rich, and concentrated. “Due to the drought,” said MacNeil, “the crop was down 20% to 60%.”
Winning bidders for the above three vintages will have their wine bottled and delivered later this year, or in 2023 or 2024 – depending on the age and type of wine. Some red wines are still in barrel for extended aging, whereas a few white wines may be ready to ship towards the end of 2022.
Napa Valley’s Three Wine Auctions
Napa Valley actually hosts three different wine auctions each year. Premiere Napa Valley, which started in 1997 and is only for professional wine buyers/trade, has seen the international wine buyer base grow each year. This year overseas buyers included key wine markets London, Hong Kong, Tokyo, Seoul, Manila, Oslo and Zurich, among others.
A second auction is the Napa Valley Library Auction which is virtual and open to both consumers and the trade. It was held in January of this year. The third auction is called Collective Napa Valley, and is actually a series of smaller auction events throughout the year. It replaces the 40-year Napa Valley Auction. Collective Napa Valley is open to consumers and trade alike, with proceeds going to local charities.