The barrel room at Culinary Institute of America (CIA) Greystone is filled with merchants, vintners, press, guests and one woman in an impossibly blue dress wearing leopard wedge-heeled shoes. Everyone’s here to taste the 200 auction lots for the Premiere Napa Valley wine auction. Not all of the wineries in the Valley can participate and some partnerships have formed to produce auction lots. You can blindside your palate by trying to taste all of the auction lots on Saturday morning. However, some vintners produce tasting events the day before. The Spring Mountain appellation vintners did a group tasting at the Spring Mountain winery. The host vineyard’s auction lot was a 100 percent Petit Verdot, which vineyard manager Ron Rosenbrand said is “something we’re proud of.”
You would expect Napa vintners to produce Cabernet Sauvignon for this auction, and the majority of the wineries did that. However, we found winemaker Gianni Paoletti of Paoletti Estates Winery pouring the only Nero d’Avola at the event. “I’m Italian,” Paoletti said. “No one had done this, and it was about time someone brought it in.” This was a relaxed wine with cherry on the nose and palate.
In an example of the cooperative nature of the event, Paoletti opened and poured the Schrader vineyards auction Zinfandel since the Schrader people hadn’t shown up yet. When they arrived, they explained that the Vieux-Os wine was 100 percent Zinfandel and was picked from two different vineyards in Calistoga. Since Sonoma Zinfandels seem to be dominating the wine consciousness of most of the obsessed drinkers I know, this seemed a bit unusual, but Schrader cellar master John Wilson pointed out that Zinfandel is California’s heritage grape and the Napa Zins were different from the neighbors. This one did have the assertiveness I love about Zinfandel, but it was thoughtful, balanced and a bit plummy. Some of the Sonoma Zins are the loudmouths at the party; this one was the smart guy who speaks rarely but dazzles with his erudition.
Of course, the current economic climate had affected all of the vintners I spoke to, and most were cultivating their loyal customer with mixed cases and appealing club offerings. Tickets for the auction sold out this year. “Our wine club is growing,” said Jason Viader, son of the founder. “I think people still want that one to one connection.”
Retailer Gary Fisch of Gary’s Wine and Marketplace is a big supporter of the Premiere auction, but said his plans for this year’s auction were value-conscious.
“We want to get the best value for our guests, and the 2007 vintage was a special one so we’re going to do everything in our power to get some of those wines.”
Fisch noted at his three New Jersey stores that fewer customers were collecting wines. “It’s more about immediate consumption.” I’ll drink to that.
Claudia Perry is a freelance writer who blogs at