Friday, April 5, 2013

The hunt for an auction lot: Premier Napa Valley 2013

Leaving Orlando at different times, and travelling to Napa via different routes, a team of dedicated and focused wine hunters descended on Premiere Napa Valley 2013 (#PNV13) with the aim of lassoing one of the auction lots on offer and dragging it back kicking and screaming to the (former) land of orange groves. This was my second PNV event (having attended PNV11 with Mr and Mrs @wineontheway) and I was looking forward to the associated fun and excitement.

Premier Napa Valley is the Napa Valley Vintners annual, invitation-only, barrel auction for wine retailers, wholesalers, restauranteurs, and members of the press. Auction proceeds go towards the trade association's promotional and other activities on behalf of valley winemakers. A total of 211 wineries contributed lots to the 2013 edition of the auction. These were either 5-, 10-, or 20-case lots; were from a yet-to-be-released vintage (2011 for the most part with some 2010s sprinkled in); and were unique as regards the wineries current offerings.

I travelled out to PNV13 as a guest of Andres Montoya, proprietor of The Wine Barn (@thewinebarn), an Orlando-area wine retailer (Andres has had some success at this venue having successfully bid on lots offered by B Cellars (2011) and Tamber Bey (2012)). In addition to my wife, other "team members" included Ron and Bev Siegel, Carson Gray (Beverage Director at Luma on Park), and two other Wine Barn customers. Andrew took the responsibility of identifying events in which we would participate and booking our reservations. And a fine job he did.

Our scheduled events were as follows:

Thursday, February 21
Tamber Bey Vineyards -- Andrew only as he was scheduled in earlier than other team members
AD Hoc 20-case-lot tasting -- open only to prior successful bidders
First Taste of Yountville -- Trade-only preview of upcoming releases from Yountville producers
Robert Foley Tasting -- Tasting of Foley wines; held at 750 Wines in St. Helena
Next Generations Tasting -- held at the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch

Friday, February 22
Boswell Caves Tasting
Spring Mountain Classic
Shafer Vineyard Tasting
Oakville Tasting

Saturday, February 23
Barrel Tasting

I flew in to San Francisco on Wednesday night, overnighted in the city, and then drove up to Napa on the following day. We were scheduled to meet at Ad Hoc to begin our quest. We rendezvoused in the reception area, greeted each other like long-lost siblings, grabbed our badges, and got down to business. This was the beginning of 2.5 days of intense tasting with the aim of identifying a few lots that we could bid on at the Saturday afternoon auction.

Team at Spring Mountain

Of the many events that we attended, three stood out for me: two scheduled events and one unscheduled. The first of the scheduled events was the Shafer tasting. The Shafer winery is beautifully positioned on the hillside with a commanding view of its surroundings and with the famed Sunspot Vineyard rising ever upward from its rear. The design of the space lends itself well to large gatherings and the event was well attended. The winery was pouring four vintages of Hillside Select from magnums, an experience that I had not previously had. And, finally, the men  (John and Doug Shafer and Elias Fernandez) responsible for the stature this winery has attained were casually roaming around among the attendees chatting freely with anyone who had an ear to lend.

Elias Fernandez sandwich
The fabled Sunspot Vineyard at Shafer
John and Bev

The second scheduled event was the Barrel Tasting on Saturday morning. Previous auction lot winners are allowed in 30 minutes earlier than the general population so you have the option of selecting the wines you have on your radar for additional follow-up in a more sedate setting. Once the room begins to fill up, tasting becomes more of a progression. What I find amazing though is the fact that a large majority of the key players in Napa are present in that room on that morning and are accessible for dialogue. I was especially pleased to meet Stephane Derenoncourt ( I am a huge fan of his wines) for the first time.

The unscheduled event was a visit to Corison Winery. I was live tweeting our activities as we went from event to event so Cathy tweeted me an invite to her event. I accepted her invitation and after our visit to the Oakville Tasting, we headed over to her establishment. We had arrived late at the Oakville event and had missed some of the wines we were on the lookout for and had also missed out on the food opportunities. We were hungry and so to fortify ourseleves before going into Corison, we stopped at Dean and Delucca and chowed down on some vegetarian Chili. The Corison event was scheduled to end at 7:00 pm and we barely made it in under the wire. We were the last visitors in the building and they were pouring a vertical of Kronos Vineyard from mags. Heaven. And Cathy was there to provide us insight into her vineyards and winemaking philosophy. A philosophy which has long endeared her to the hearts of wine lovers who believe in restraint. Heaven squared. We did not leave right away.

At the conclusion of the tastings, I queried Andres as to his thoughts. His response:

"Overall I was focused on finding wines with balance, mainly those that displayed good, bright, healthy, ripe flavors in their fruit, with very little to no herbaceous notes, but with fresh and abundant acidity and long finishes. This was obviously a challenge this year, as the majority of the Bordeaux varietal blends from PNV 2013 were from the somewhat difficult 2011 vintage, which you could say was not a typical sunny, all-is-well harvest as were the previous 2-3 years; or even the much-anticipated 2012 wines many were buzzing about. But I think years like 2011 present a good, fair challenge to the Napa establishment and really separates the technical winemakers from the true artists of the trade. I also felt that hillside vineyards were the best of PNV 2013, especially Spring Mountain wines, which showed deep, rich flavors and intense, punchy acidity, which I always feel is the backbone for ageability."

Based on the above criteria, he identified the following wines as worthy of consideration

Wine of the Show:
Lot #17 Spring Mountain Vineyard 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon La Perla Vineyard

Close-to-the-Top Favorites:
Stag's Leap Wine Cellars 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Ignem et Aquam
Derenoncourt 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Las Posadas
Barnett 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Spring Mountain
Vine Hill Ranch 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Assesment Blend
O'Shaughnessy 2011 Petit Verdot Howell Mountain
Notre Vin Cellars (Denis Malbec) 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon One Hundred Vines Howell Mountain
Detert 2011 Cabernet Franc Oakville

Other Notable Lots:
Schrader Cellars 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon TSA Cuvee
Shafer Vineyards 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Sunspot Vineyard
Arkenstone 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Block 1 Lower Howell Mountain
Roy Estate 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Voix Basse
Promise 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Rutherford
J. Davies 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Rock Garden Block Diamond Mountain
Oakville East 2011 Cabernet Franc Majek Oakville
Gandona Estate 2010 Cabernet Sauvignon Pritchard Hill
BURE Family 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Oakville
Kapcsandy 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Yountville
Seavey 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Masochist's Hill
Keenan 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Waited So Long Spring Mountain

Good Buys:
Louis Martini 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon 254 Meritage Blend
St. Supery 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon
Volker Eisele 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Chiles Valley District
Cain 2011 Cabernet Franc Orchard Block Spring Mountain
Hill Wine Co. 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Howell Mountain
Tierra Roja 2011 Cabernet Sauvignon Katherine's Blend Oakville

So the partying is over. This is where the rubber meets the road. Auction time. An enterprising member of our team had locked off seven seats in the front row to the left of the auctioneers and I thought that was great. Until the air conditioner started blowing cold air directly on us and never stopped. I was a block of ice by the end of the proceedings. The biggest shock for us happened while were were still trying to get comfortable in our seats. The Schrader lot was offered at too high a price and the auctioneer had to back it down. He offered it at $25, 000, got one bid and no follow-ups. And it was sold. Shocker. That was a bargain based on what that wine had previously done at this event.

We bid prudently on our lots of interest and then sat on our paddles when the per bottle price got above our threshold. We were disciplined. And proud of ourselves (This was out of character for Ron who has never met an auction wine that he does not own.). Eventually the Louis Martini 20-case lot came up for bid. Now this was the very first wine that we had tasted at Ad Hoc way back on Thursday and we had tapped it as a sleeper. We waited until a few rounds of bidding went by and then went in with a decisive bid. The auctioneer said the magic words (Going once! Going twice! Sold to Paddle #) and we were the proud owners of a 20-case lot.

We left the auction flushed with the glow of a successful hunt. But we could not stop talking about the one that got away. The Schrader purchaser got a real good deal.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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