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Here comes Napa Auction week!

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The valley is all atwitter. The private jets and limos will swoosh in, millions of dollars will be spent, endless quantities of gourmet food and wine will be consumed, and then the millionaires and billionaires will depart as quickly as they came, leaving the Napa Valley Vintners to count up the money for charity raised during Auction Napa Valley 2013.

To say this is Napa’s biggest extravaganza of the year is an understatement–and Napa has some pretty extravagant events. (Probably #2 is Premier Napa Valley.) Years ago, I used to bring a hand-held calculator and sit under the auction tent, tallying up the bids myself–a useless, pointless task, since the NVV does it anyway; but then, I was anxious to prove myself as a journalist. As many times as I saw Robert Mondavi, in his big straw hat, encouraging the high rollers, I never failed to be in awe. He was larger than life, legendary, and it’s been gratifying over the years since he passed away to learn more about him from his sons, Michael and Tim, and his grandchildren.

Nowadays I skip the auction and focus on the barrel tasting, held this Friday at Jean-Charles Boisset’s Raymond Vineyards. One can’t easily taste all 90 lots, much less take notes (although one or two bloggers try). I might taste a dozen or two (with spitting, of course), but informally, just enough to register a fast impression, which is usually “This is really a nice wine,” because, in fact, the majority of them are, which is what you’d expect. But a huge, crowded, noisy room is hardly the place to focus.

Sometimes, wandering through the crowd, my eyes will lock onto a proprietor’s eyes whom I recognize, and I feel compelled to walk over to his or her barrel and taste and chat. It’s an opportunity to catch up with old acquaintances and learn new things. Other times, I’ll see a brand I don’t know (and they don’t know me either), and I’ll ask a few questions and take a business card.

There was a minor brouhaha in the Napa Valley Register last week, in which the newspaper’s editorial board responded to suggestions that the auction isn’t really for “everyone” in the valley because it is largely “outside the economic reach of the vast majority of Napa County residents.”

That may be true; but the paper strongly defended the auction, and of course, they’re right. The auction has raised $110 million over the years which has gone to help mainly the agricultural workers and their families, through housing assistance and the provision of healthcare at Queen of the Valley Medical Center and local clinics, as well as a variety of non-profits that support the community in many ways, from schools to legal aid.  That’s not even counting the money that auction attendees drop at local businesses, from gas stations to limos, restaurants and hotels . So obviously the auction is a huge boon to everyone who lives in Napa Valley.

I’m looking forward to this visit. You can criticize Napa Valley Cabernet all you want, especially if you’re an effete New York critic or California writer looking to establish a reputation. But the fact remains that Napa Valley changed the world conversation about Cabernet and (dare I call it?) Bordeaux-style blends to such an extent that we should never, ever again refer to Bordeaux again in any discussion of Napa Valley. Actually, they should refer to us.

  1. Them’s fightin’ words! ;) Actually, I was wondering if someone who had no business (financially) being at the auction could still attend, or if it was more of an invite only affair?

  2. Victoria Amato says:

    Have a great time at Auction! It always makes me happy to spy you at these events =) Cheers.

  3. Why do you call Eric Asimov “effete?” You criticize Napa cabernet and Napa vintners all the time. You also then turn around and give lots of 96+ scores. Why does consistency in Asimov’s critiques make him effete?

    Yet, you are correct in claiming that Napa Valley changed the conversation about wine. Many Bordeaux chateaux are making California-style red blends now. Bordeaux varieties can make many different “style” wines.

  4. Enjoy – bumming I’m missing it this year!

  5. Will miss seeing you Dude.

  6. doug wilder says:

    Joe, I won’t go this year as well as I am over-subscribed on commitments. I used to approach the auction festivities as work but there is very little for me to do at this event, quite honestly that I can’t imagine doing more appropriately, and completely at some other time.

    The focus for the vintners this week is on the bidders, not the critics. I wish the NVV much success! Have some Schramsberg for me, Steve!

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