Wizards of Wine: Premiere Napa Valley 5 min read

Every February, a bit of magic comes to Napa. Appropriately titled “Premiere Napa Valley,” with its centerpiece being live auction, is an annual opportunity for top trade and media guests to experience and purchase the most exclusive wines Napa Valley has to offer. The event has established itself as a place to be and buy.


Each year, members of the Napa Valley Vintners’ Association produce five to twenty case lots of wine that represents their finest efforts. The wines are donated to the Association to be auctioned at Premiere Napa Valley. The proceeds help fund the association and their efforts to promote Napa wines.


This year an enthusiastic group of attendees, representing 8 countries and 28 states, engaged in highly competitive, spirited bidding. The “futures” offering of the coveted 2012 vintage resulted in record prices for the wines (an average of $283/per bottle).


Bill Knight, the owner of The Wine House in LA, was the winner of the highest price lot: the highly coveted offering from Scarecrow. He paid a record $260,000 for five cases.


Bill and his son Glen visited Scarecrow and tasted the wine prior to the Saturday’s event. They thought it was exceptional, even better than the 2007 vintage, which earned the perfect 100 points from the renowned wine critic Robert Parker. They tried to obtain the 2010 at the Premiere Auction two years prior, but were outbid by Nakagawa Wine Co., a retailer from Japan. This time they were determined not to let the lot get away.


The budget bar was set and quickly exceeded during the heat of the auction. Bill’s private cellar will be welcoming a fabulous new tenant. My strong recommendation is doing whatever is necessary to make friends with the Knights! Their highly successful wine business is rooted in his philosophy of “Nordstrom-like” customer service standards. The Wine House has earned a position as of one of the top wine retailers in the country which brings them impressive purchasing power.


Just three days prior to the auction, Robert Parker commented on the tremendous achievements of the California wine industry. He noted that in forty years wine lovers will look back at them with full appreciation of what they represented.


There were many records set and broken that day. Glen raised his paddle again and again because of his belief that he was bidding on the best wine produced in California.


Perhaps Bill’s 40 years of experience has given him the vision that is ahead of its time. Maybe that is why $260,000 represented value to him that many of us are only starting to understand. Celebrating California wine, opening one’s heart and wallet for the purpose of promotion and protection of Napa Valley wines is a cause that is worthy. Once upon a time, in 1973, California wine voice was heard around the world. Bill told me that he wanted it heard again.


How did Scarecrow achieve its “cult” status? It’s a confluence of factors, some highly subjective, some purely logical. At the heart of it is the vineyards location and rootstock. There is beautiful history, exceptionally dedicated owners, and above all stellar, mind-boggling, talented winemaking.


All successful luxury goods purveyors have a customer perception of value and ensuing brand loyalty. Creating perceptions is more of an art than science. Captivating and enthralling consumers means gaining prime market position and premium pricing. In the world of fine wine, great scores from Parker and Wine Spectator, a superior pedigree and a compelling story is a must.


Consumers at every level are driven by value. The $4,333 per bottle price that the Knights spent for their winning bid represents “value” for several reasons. Only five cases of Scarecrow’s “Toto’s Opium Dream, Scene III” were produced for the auction. It was sourced from a single block of vines planted in 1945. It was made by Celia Welch, who is arguably one of the most important wine makers of our time. 2012 may very well go down in history as California’s vintage of the century. To put it in further perspective, top Bordeaux and Burgundy wines, often from inferior vintages, fetch that and more. Are we finally seeing Napa Valley wines get their chance on the worldwide stage?


Does that mean it’s the ultimate bottle of wine? Premiere wines offered by Barbour, Shafer, Schrader and many others were also quite spectacular. In the end, what truly counted were opinions of two competing bidders, who were compelled to place a record bid based on what they have tasted.


If you want the same experience, contact The Wine House, perhaps they will be persuaded to part with a bottle!


With all that said, here is more food for thought. 2012 is without a doubt a stellar vintage. So is 2013, by all early accounts. By contrast, 2011 was remarkably cold and wet, one of the most challenging vintages to date. Wine makers had to pull all the stops in the cellar to correct what Mother Nature handed over. Nonetheless, there are terrific 2011 wines. Wines from Andy Erickson, Phillip Melka, Celia Welch, Elias Fernandez and an elite group of a few others show grace, sophistication, finesse, and consummate expressions of the site. I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to follow the wineries that produce outstanding wines in difficult years. They will offer you consistent greatness and value. They are the true wizards who make real magic.


This was an event that will not soon be forgotten. Bravo, California Wizards of Wine!

Ilona Thompson

Ilona Thompson is Editor-in-Chief at PalateXposure, a destination site for oenophiles, gourmands and luxury travelers. She also recently launched #Wine, a site dedicated to wines and spirits reviews, and #Photography, a site devoted to high-quality wine, food, and travel related photography.

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