Thursday, February 26, 2015

Initial thoughts on Premiere Napa Valley 2015

Premiere Napa Valley 2015
Last week's Premiere Napa Valley (PNV), the fundraising auction for the Napa Valley Vintners (NVV), brought in a record $6.05 million, just surpassing last year's previous record of $5.9 million. Napa Valley wineries donated five-, 10-, or 20-case lots that were then exclusively auctioned off to the trade. The barrel tasting and auction at the Culinary Institute of America’s Greystone campus in St. Helena capped off a bacchanalian week in the Napa Valley just as the vines were beginning to spring back to life for the 2015 vintage. The average wholesale price per bottle sold was an astounding $286. The top bidder was Total Wine & More, who purchased 25 lots of the futures for a total of $836,000.

The most expensive lot, which also happened to be one of my favorites, was the 2013 BRAND Napa Valley "Double Barrel Elevation 1588" Cabernet Sauvignon. Sixty bottles of this cabernet sauvignon from Pritchard Hill sold for $115,000 to a corporate finance firm based in Zurich, Switzerland. The frenzied bidding brought BRAND proprietor Ed Fitts to tears when it was all said and done. Two other lots earned $100,000 for a mere 5 cases of wine. Only six lots failed to sell for more than $100 per bottle, three of which were white wines, including a very interesting sweet Scuppernong from Spiriterra Vineyards. Even though I enjoyed it, the unusual wine made from Vitis rotundifolia grapes was a peculiar addition to the cabernet sauvignon-dominated field.

Thursday and Friday were filled with various preview parties around the valley. After missing it last year, I was able to make it to Vintage Perspective Tasting of 2010, 2011, and 2012 cabernets as well as the 2003-2009 library tasting. I also went to preview receptions for Chateau Boswell (a random group of "most celebrated winemakers"), Coombsville Vintners & GrowersPritchard Hill Wineries, Women WinemakersOakville Winegrowers Association, FlyWine (bottles premium wine in 100 mL TSA-friendly bottles), and Winemakers of Brokenrock Vineyard. I had planned on attending a few other receptions, but time and wine just got in the way.

The barrel tasting portion of the auction on Saturday morning showcased wines mostly from the 2013 vintage and the attendance was quite a big smaller than last year. Cate Conniff, the communications manager for NVV, told me that invitations to media, trade, and wineries were cut across the board because too many people were packed into the venue last year. It was refreshing not feeling like a canned sardine this year. Compared to the similar 2012 vintage offered at the previous auction, the 2013s were successful across the board. Ripeness and concentration were not a problem for Napa producers in 2013. To my palate, the wines were marked by good fruit flavors and strong tannins. The 2013 wines tended to be less opulent than those from 2012 and more restrained. As goes with saying for any barrel tasting, the wines were not finished products, so no final assessment can be made. That being said, the wines that really impressed me did so with their aromas, balance, and refinement as opposed to power and density.

BRAND Napa Valley sold for $115,000

My favorite PNV wines were (in alphabetical order): 2013 Arrow & Branch Red Wine, 2013 BRAND Napa Valley "Double Barrel Elevation 1588" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Cairdean Estate "Acquaintance Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Continuum Estate Proprietary Red Blend, 2013 Fairchild "Stones No. 2" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Gandona Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Kata "Benny's Blend" Red Wine, 2013 Notre Vin "Twin Brothers" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Pulido-Walker "The Possible II" Cabernet Sauvignon, and 1989 Schramsberg "J. Schram Late Disgorged" Sparkling Wine.

Many wineries poured their current release wines in addition to their PNV lots. A few of my favorite publicly available wines were (again, in alphabetical order): 2012 BRAND Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 Cairdean Estate Cabernet Franc (more on this next week), 2012 Continuum Estate Red Wine, 2012 Coquerel Verdelho, 2011 Corison Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon, 2013 Farella Sauvignon Blanc, 2010 Harlan Estate, 2011 Hudson "Old Master," 2012 Lateral Red Wine, 2011 Meteor Vineyard "Perseid" Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 Oakville East "Franc 'n Stern," 2012 Ovid "Experiment V6.2" Red Wine, 2011 Paul Hobbs Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 Rudd "Oakville Estate Red," and 2011 Young Inglewood "Right Bank" Blend.

The group of vintners, buyers, and media were filled with notable names and faces. One of the big names making their presence known was none other than Gary Vaynerchuk. Gary has been away from the wine world the past three and a half years as he's hustled to build VaynerMedia into a leading social media and digital marketing agency. Gary enthusiastically took selfies with winemakers and assisted his father in buying eleven different lots, including spending $100,000 on 60 bottles of Fairchild "Stones No. 2" Cabernet Sauvignon. I caught up with Gary after the auction to talk about the wines and a possible reboot of WineLibraryTV. You'll have to wait until tomorrow to hear what he had to say...

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