Monday, March 13, 2017

In search of a 2017 Premiere Napa Valley (#PNV) auction lot

After our visit to Eisele Vineyard, we headed over to the Farmstead at Long Meadow Ranch for the tasting of the Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) 20-case lots, the first official all-hands tasting of the 2017 auction. (Premiere Napa Valley (PNV) is the Napa Valley Vintners annual, invitation-only, barrel auction for wine retailers, wholesalers, restaurateurs, and members of the press.  Auction proceeds go towards the trade association's promotional and other activities on behalf of valley winemakers.) We look forward to the 20-case tastings because (i) we have successfully bid on one of these lots in the past; (ii) the Mondavi lot is always a great taste; and (iii) we encounter a lot of first-time participants.

We were disappointed. The event did not have the sizzle that it had in years past and the wines were less-than-stellar. Even the Mondavi offering, which should have towered above the competition, left a bit to be desired. We left and went back to our hotel lobby in search of finer fare.

We had dinner scheduled at Bistro Jeanty that evening. Our standard PNV-week process is to bring in non-Napa wines (as a counter to tasting Napa Cabs all day) and to take the restaurant’s last seating at night. Our reservation at Bistro Jeanty that night was at 8:00 pm but it was less busy than “normal. As a matter of fact, by 9:15 pm, it was empty except for us. We were all surprised by this and I remarked that this was not a good harbinger for the auction. Prophetic, given that the final take was $4.2 million, continuing the downward trend of the past three years ($5 million in 2016 and $6 million in 2015).

The next morning we were up bright and early and headed for the tasting at the Arkenstone Winery. The last time I attended this event it was held at the Boswell cave and we were packed in tighter than sardines in a can. Not so this time. I could navigate freely from station to station and spend unaccustomed amounts of time with winery representatives. The standout wines for me from this tasting were the Arkenstone Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon PNV lot.


Author and Sam Kaplan, Arkenstone winemaker
This year we made a strategic decision to visit fewer of these barrel tastings and to catch the ones we missed at the Saturday morning grand tasting. We tasted at Pritchard Hill, Winemakers Studio Tasting, Oakville Growers, and the Open House at Spottswoode. Utilizing this strategy allowed us to get to the Oakville tasting early enough to taste the Harlan. The first time ever for us; and we took full advantage of it.

The tastings that were most revealing for us were the Spottswoode and Online Auction Lot tastings. The Open House tasting featured Dalla Valle with a 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon (their previous auction lot was 10 years ago and this was the youngest Cabernet Sauvignon that I saw on offer), Dominus with a 2006 Cabernet Sauvignon, and Spottswoode with a 2000 Cabernet Sauvignon PNV Blend and a 2015 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon PNV, among others.The Dalle Valle was a superb wine. Drawn from Isabella’s Vineyard of the Maya Block, this wine, as described by my colleague Andres Montoya, has a “knockout nose of wildflowers, iron, smoke, blackberry, bramble, liquid graphite, and layered complexity that keeps going on and on …” This was the class of the wines I had tasted to date. A bad Dominus is a unicorn wine.

The Online Auction tasting showcased a number of producers that I had not encountered at PNV previously. Further, it had a higher level of energy than at any of the tastings visited up to that time. We encountered two wines there that we were attracted to: Nellcote 2015 Cabernet Tender is the Night and Tonella Cabernet Rutherford Clone 1. We submitted aggressive online bids on both these wines in an attempt to dissuade any potential bidders from jumping into the water.

On the morning of the auction we were there bright and early to re-taste the wines we had liked and to catch the ones that we had missed. One of the wines we discovered was the Jones Family 2015 Two Decades. Adam from Wine on the Way brought it to my attention and we agreed with his assessment. Andrew  called it an “… incredibly pure and decadent example of top-flight Cabernet from Thomas River Brown.”

Winefolly and author

All the while we kept checking our bids. Paddle #2 kept bumping up against us and we kept fending him off. The bidding was scheduled to end once the Live Auction started and we were convinced that we had crossed the finish line as the winner of both the Nellcote and Tonella lots. We still do not understand what happened but we ended up losing the Nellcote bid on the last tick of the clock. Oh well. We had a Lot and had assured ourselves a Past-Winner invitation for the 2018 event.

We had reserved four seats on the right-hand-side of the auctioneer, towards the front. We took a few bottles and settled into our seats to see which would be the top-ranked lot. 

Dynn Proctor, author, Jeff Loo, and RonSiegel
I was reveling in the fact that we had gotten away with only spending $8000 when I felt Ron’s arm moving up and down next to me. What was he doing? Crap. He was bidding. But he didn’t have the paddle. We never allow him to get within 10 miles of it. But the auctioneer didn't care. He was accepting those hand signs. And then we realized he was bidding on the Dalle Valle lot. We thought of our children and Grandchildren and tried to tackle him. But it was too late. I heard those dreaded words —Sold — and the hammer was pointing in our direction. I stopped choking him and and made it look like a hug because everyone was looking in our direction. We hustled Ron out of there very quickly before he impoverished another couple of generations.

As I was rushing blindly out of the hall, I ran headfirst into the Dalle Valle owner. And she was smiling broadly and congratulating us. I couldn't bring myself to tell her that my kids and grandkids would each have a bottle of her auction lot as their inheritance so I smiled woefully and turned towards the camera to take a picture with her. 

Author, Naoko Dalle Valle, and Ron

On the bright side, I guess we will have a lower paddle number next year.

©Wine -- Mise en abyme

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