The Collective Napa Valley program raises funds

Co-chairs Beth Novak, CEO of Spottswoode winery and David Duncan, CEO of Silver Oak Cellars Right: Robin and Michelle Baggett, founders of their lakeside, Alpha Omega winery

The wine fraternity in Napa Valley is known for giving back to the community generously, reports Mira Advani Honeycutt who attended its latest Auction

Jean-Charles and Gina Gallo Boisset with Spirits Director Anthony Attanasio

Napa Valley is the most renowned wine region in the US. The local vintners have not only made a mark in producing world-class Cabernets but are also known for their generosity which in previous years was evident at the annual Auction Napa Valley (ANV). The region’s flagship fundraiser, presented by Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), raises astronomical sums over a weekend and draws global attention as bidders fly into Northern California from all over the world.

Since its inaugural auction in 1981, the year when Napa became California’s first AVA (American Viticultural Area), the organisation has raised more than US$ 225 million through various events especially its annual ANV, funds that went to support health care and children’s education among other programs. However, in the aftermath of the COVID-19 lockdown, which gave many organisations a chance to rethink and reinvent fundraising events, the Auction Napa Valley pivoted to a truncated although extended version.

Welcome to the Collective Napa Valley- Together Again Weekend The auction debuted on June 2 and 3 as a streamlined version of the highly successful Auction Napa Valley. The two day event raised $3.8 million from the barrel and live auctions plus the Fund-a-Bright Future campaign, the proceeds of which provide Napa Valley’s youth with much-needed access to mental health services.

The live barrel auction at Louis M Martini winery, managed by Sotheby’s, drew 1,300 guests

So, what does Collective Napa Valley mean for consumers? Teresa Wall, Senior Director of Communications at Napa Valley Vintners said, “It’s a philanthropic year-round programme and the impetus is to raise funds to do good in our community. In previous years we used to do one weekend event. The difference in our program now is bringing together a larger and stronger community from all around the world.” The year-round philanthropy program includes three seasonal offerings, aiming at inclusivity and accessibility to the global wine community.

Priyanka French, the winemaker at Signorello Estate

“ We launched the programme in 2022 and we’ve been through one full-year cycle,” Wall stated. Changes are being done as the programme goes along. The Spring 2023 offering, for example, was an online sale of special wines accessed through Collective Napa Valley. There’s no charge to join the Collective events at any level and people can opt-in to purchase certain wines throughout the year in person or online.

Priyanka French, the winemaker at Signorello Estate, weighed in. Earlier in February 2023 she had co-chaired Premier Napa Valley, a trade-only futures auction, proceeds of which go toward Napa Valley Vintners’s promotional advocacy work. “It’s not only one event in June but other events too,” she pointed out. “It’s more welcoming and is bringing in more people. It’s not just about the big spenders anymore; it’s for anyone who wants to come in and has love for Napa and wants to support our community.” Both the barrel auction lots and the live auction lots were scaled down under the new format. “They are humbler than they have been in the past,” Wall noted. “What we want to do is get back to our roots. The idea is to keep things more grounded going forward and more inclusive.” It was tough to maintain that costly level each year and Wall admits the original event suffered from vintner fatigue. “Auction Lots don’t come out of nowhere,” she said. “We had to find vintners who were able to maintain that level year after year.”

The live barrel auction at Louis M Martini winery, managed by Sotheby’s, drew 1,300 guests

New Format The very first revamped auction weekend in June 2023 — from the Friday afternoon barrel auction held at Louis M Martini Winery to Saturday’s family style Together Again Live auction at Silver Oak Cellars — was indeed a coming-together celebration. The weekend was also filled with vintner-hosted luncheons and dinners. The new version’s more manageable barrel and live auctions were handled by Sotheby’s.

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“We are in the second year of our three-year agreement with Sotheby’s as our auction house for all of our endeavours with Napa Valley Vintners,” noted Wall. The auction house conducted the 2022 barrel auction, which served to jump-start Napa’s post-pandemic return to fundraising. “What’s wonderful about the partnership with Sotheby’s is that we’re able to host a live-streaming auction as well as make barrel lots available for bidding, said Wall.”

From the excitement and enthusiasm I witnessed at the barrel and live auctions, it’s clear that the truncated version is off to a good start. “A lot of big bidders have been supportive and they really wanted to come back,” commented Beth Novak, CEO of Spottswoode Winery who co-chaired the live auction with David Duncan, CEO of Silver Oak Cellars. “It’s a much smaller group of lots, but we’re just starting again so we wanted to start small and rebuild it.”

Sotheby’s highly-charged auctioneer, Jacqueline Towers- Perkins raised the evening’s top lot to $500,000

Live Auction The evening began with a feast crafted by Napa’s culinary pioneer Cindy Pawlcyn. About 200 guests were seated at a long 230-foot community table flanked by vineyards. After dinner, guests strolled over to a fashionably casual garden setting around an auction stage. Sotheby’s auctioneer, the highly highly charged Jacqueline Towers-Perkins, worked the intimate crowd with her seductive intimidation and raised the evening’s top lot to a cool $500,000 for a Staglin Family-donated exotic eight-day South African journey to Singita Kruger National Forest and Cape Town.

Among a total of ten lots, another top lot was the Spottswoode’s Ultimate Napa Experience, loaded with four tickets to the Bottle Rock concert, vineyard tours and magnums of wine. With two keen bidders, the $280,000 bid was doubled.

There was active online participation as well, with bids coming in fast and furious. A large screen projecting bidding prices given in half a dozen international currencies reflected global interest and participation. The auction ended with a Fund-a-Bright Future as 12 local high school students came on stage with some of them sharing their stories of mental health issues.

The barrel auction drew 1,300 guests who gathered around the festive marketplace on the grounds of Louis M Martini Winery where they enjoyed delectable bites curated by local chefs and restaurants and a wide selection of Napa wines, heavy on rosés.

The barrel lots were predominantly Cabernet Sauvignon and the majority of them were from the 2021 vintage, hailed as an outstanding vintage by most winemakers.

Laurenec Schlatter from Merryvale Winery and Greta Martin from Martin Estate: Rosés were greatly enjoyed by guests among a wide variety of Napa Valley wines

“It’s one of those vintages that stands out,” commented Shafer Vineyards winemaker Elias Fernandez. “After I’m dead and gone, it will be enjoyed for many years to come,” he insisted, comparing it to Bordeaux’s legendary 1961 vintage.

The top five lots included Cardinale, Sire Estate, Shafer Vineyards Hillside Select, Chappelet Pritchard 54 and Dana Estates VASO, all of them 2021 Cabernets.

I’ve attended many celebrations over the past two decades from the larger Auction Napa Valley events to the recent slimmed-down version. I’ve always been impressed by Napa Vintners’ generosity, their strong ties to the community and to their hospitality toward visitors. As Wall succinctly stated: “All over the world people have close ties to our community. We want to recognize that and welcome people.”