Winemakers contributed a total of 225 lots, each five to 20 cases of wines crated exclusively for the trade auction that won't be released until late 2015 or 2016.
The day began with a barrel tasting and schmoozefest for the 700 members of the trade and media attending the auction at the Culinary Institute of America at Greystone in St. Helena. Add in the winemakers and when the auction officially kicked off at 1 p.m., 1,000 people were trying to fit into the huge stone-walled room on the third floor of the former Christian Brothers Winery. Some hung out just outside the doors, or outside.
The scene was raucous and fun, with veteran auctioneers David Elswood of Christie's in London and Fritz Hatton spelling each other and moving things along at a brisk canter. Two spotters stood at the front of the room yelping like coyotes and breaking out in hand signals when someone raised a paddle.
It took me a while before I actually saw a paddle raised, it was done so discreetly: a quick flash and it's gone. That is, until Lot 119 (five cases of nonvintage Cabernet Sauvignon "Petit Abacus" from ZD Wines), when a gentleman in front raised paddle No. 8 at somewhere around $20,000 and kept it raised until the bid reached $50,000 and everyone else fell out. Sold!
And so it went through the long afternoon, with a five-case lot of 2013 BRAND Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon made by Philippe Melka going for $115,000, the top lot of the day.
The soundtrack: rumbles, groans, clapping and shouts, at intervals, as the auctioneers chided buyers to go higher. When the auctioneer yelled "sold!" and 60 bottles of Hudson Vineyards 2013 Chardonnay "Alexander's Field" went for $18,000, owners Lee Hudson and Cristina Salas-Porras rushed over to give the burly buyer a big hug.
Who knew it would be such a love fest?
I waited to see what happened with Lot 120 from Momento Mori. Early on, I'd been standing next to Adam Craun of Manhattan Beach, who told me he founded the winery with two friends. Sure enough, when that lot came up, the bids went quickly to arrive at $50,000. Moments later, bidding ended at $80,000 for the 2013 RTL Cabernet Sauvignon, a single vineyard barrel selection from the Dr. Crane Vineyard in Oakville.
The average wholesale price per bottle sold in the auction was $286. But nothing came close to the astonishing figure Scarecrow got at last year's auction. That's when Glen Knight, domestic wine buyer for the Wine House in Los Angeles, paid a whopping $4,333 a bottle for 60 bottles of the 2012 Scarecrow Toto's Opium Dream: Scene III Cabernet. (Scarecrow didn't participate this year.)
According to Napa Valley Vintners, the top-earning lots included: BRAND Napa Valley; Chateau Boswell Winery; Fairchild Napa Valley; Gandona Estate; Shafer Vineyards; Pulido~Walker; Memento Mori; a collaboration between CONSTANT, David Arthur, Italics and Reynolds Family Winery; Silver Oak Cellars; and Rombauer Vineyards.
The Wine House was among the top retailers bidding.
One hundred fifty lots later, I made my way down the stairs and outside, where I found Jeff Morgan, winemaker for Peter Paul Wines, waiting until that lot was up and unlucky enough to be the very last of the afternoon, Lot 225. The five-case lot of 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon from Leslie Rudd's Mount Veeder Vineyard went for $15,000.
Game over until next year.