There’s something to be said for creating art-on-demand. When you combine it with winemaking, it’s a marvel. People will drop bucks — major bucks — to get rare, one of a kind wines from tiny lots that are otherwise not available. Especially when you put a paddle in their hands.
The mid-winter barrel tasting on Saturday at the Culinary Institute of America, the crux of Premiere Napa Valley’s two-day events, was supposed to inspire bidders for the auction, which took place a few hours later. Boy did it. And how could it not? All you had to do was saunter over to your favorite producer and taste a little genius.
People who dropped major cash last year (this is the event’s 11th year) wore county fair-style ribbons that said Successful Past Bidder, or something like that. Oftentimes, wineries woo these folks — hosting them in restaurants and putting them up — in the hopes of another paddle raise. Relationships are typically forged, too. It’s not just about the money.
On the local front, I ran into the owners of Hap’s of Pleasanton, who had their eye on the Narsai David lot. They got their hands on 4 lots of it last year; but this year, it was out of their budget.
Rather than tell you what all of the nearly 200 vintners showcased, I’ll focus on the biggest sales and surprises:
The highest sale: Rombauer. Five cases of their Cabernet Sauvignon went for $50,000. The dude who got his hands on this, Darioush (5 cases for $17,000) and other name droppers, was V.J. Jazirvar, the chair of Petroleum Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the largest private club of its kind in the country.
When I talked to V.J., he struck me as a very jolly guy who was serious about money. He was wearing a white short-sleeved polo shirt and jeans. Very casual. He admitted he’d been drinking at the auction. We all had. Last year, he paid even more for the Rombauer lots. $64,000. “We like to keep our members happy,” he told me. By the time I left, at around Lot. No. 152 of 187 lots, V.J. had spent nearly $100,000 at the auction.”I got a bargain for every one of them,” he said.
Biggest surprise: Hourglass. At the second highest, five cases of their inaugural Cabernet Sauvignon blend, 36 24 36, the numbers that supposedly form the perfect hourglass shape, went for $42,000. I wasn’t familiar with the winery, and neither was my posse. Their schtick is that the three blocks making up the St. Helena appellation provide the perfect balance of black fruit and anise, mint and eucalyptus, and earth and mineral to make a balanced and seductive wine. When and if you try it, let me know.
No surprise: Five cases of Shafer’s Sunspot Cabernet Sauvignon went for $40,000.
Biggest shocker: The undeniably beautiful Schramsberg 1992 J. Schram Late Disgorged I was raving about yesterday only went for $8,000 for five cases. Unbelievable. I wanted to ask V.J. to buy me some, or perhaps find a way to push his paddle-holding hand high up into the air. Falling on him was an option. But hey, it was a professional event.