Lucy Shaw raises paddles with the high rollers in Napa – and Adam Lechmere finds eight California wines for those on a more modest budget
Padding around in a white suit, Francis Ford Coppola injected a dose of Hollywood glitz into this year’s Auction Napa Valley, which raised $15.7 million for local charities in the California wine region.
The Godfather director – and owner of Inglenook, one of Napa’s most venerable and iconic wineries – co-chaired the event with members of his family. Fresh from her best director win at the Cannes Film Festival for The Beguiled, Sofia Coppola hosted a small dinner for the highest bidders at last year’s auction.
Her mother, Eleanor Coppola, who has just released her first feature film, Paris Can Wait, starring Diane Lane and Alec Baldwin, catered for 2,000 guests at the barrel auction held at the Inglenook Estate on Saturday, where cases of wine from 108 producers were up for grabs and could be sampled fresh from the barrel, with the 10 highest bidders for each of the wines winning a case.
Speaking to World Travel Guide, Eleanor confirmed that Coppola would be cooking the post-auction meal at the three-Michelin-star Meadowood. “Everyone thinks he isn’t going to do it but he’s preparing gnocchi for 800 as we speak.”
Among the top selling lots in the barrel auction were The Mascot – a Cabernet made from the younger vines of Harlan Estate, Bond and Promontory, which raised $73,550; and Melka Wines’ Métisse Martinez Cabernet, which netted $62,600, while Shafer’s 2015 Hillside Select Cabernet went for $52,600. “Napa has come of age on the world stage and the wines are now world class. The region is perfect for Cabernet – it’s not too hot and not too cold, like the Goldilocks fairytale. Our Cabs are rich and concentrated but I don’t think they’re too ripe – there’s a lot of luscious fruit there,” Shafer Vineyards’ CEO, Doug Shafer, told WTG.
Rita Rae Fontenot, a podiatrist from Louisiana, got so caught up in the barrel auction bidding that she left with 10 cases of wine. “I walked out with 10 cases as I bid early and was expecting to be out-bid but ended up winning them all,” she confessed to WTG.
Dressed in a red linen suit, Coppola’s son Roman was master of ceremonies at the live auction, which took place on Saturday night at Meadowood, a hotel-resort of unparalleled luxury set in acres of woodland. Women dripping with diamonds and men in pastel-coloured blazers arrived en masse, weaving their way through the parasol-dotted lawn to a giant white tent where they were enticed to bid on some of the 38 vintner-sponsored lots.
Drinking flutes of Schramsberg and nibbling on fennel arancini, wine trade luminaries like French consultant Michel Rolland and Petrus president Christian Moueix rubbed shoulders with Gina Gallo and her flamboyant husband Jean-Charles Boisset of Raymond Vineyards, wearing a pair of blue velvet slippers emblazoned with seahorses.
Boisset’s lot, which went under the hammer for $400,000, was one of the most glamourous of the evening – a four-night stay on Marlon Brando’s private island Tetiaroa, near Tahiti, where Obama recently wrote his memoirs and Pippa Middleton, the sister of the Duchess of Cambridge, honeymooned. “French Polynesia was Gauguin’s dream and this magical island is the most luxurious place I’ve ever been,” he said.
The auction got off to a strong start with the first lot, which included three nights at Coppola’s Niebaum Mansion and the chance to arrive in style at his Palazzo Margherita in Basilicata in his Falcon 7X private jet. Whipping bidders into a paddle-waving frenzy, the lot went for $460,000. Hoping for a higher sum, Coppola took to the stage and grabbed the mic. “Just to let you know, the Falcon can seat 16 not six,” he announced, then exited stage right.
While bidders got giddy on Krug, a brass band blasted out Hey Big Spender and flapper girls dressed in gold shimmied across the stage after a Balthazar of Screaming Eagle 2014 fetched $440,000. The top lot of the night came from Colgin Cellars. Featuring dinner at Alain Passard’s L’Arpège in Paris and lunch at Krug’s Clos du Mesnil vineyard, auctioneer Fritz Hatton incited a bidding war that saw the lot won by three people, who paid $700,000 each for the experience, raising $2.1 million.
Rather than mingling with guests, Coppola slaved over a hot stove perfecting his pomodoro basilico peperoncini sauce for his signature gnocchi dish, which he served at an Italian-themed al fresco dinner after the auction. “Hurry up, the food can’t wait – we’re on a schedule,” he teased, as bidders fled the tent to dine under the stars. With a string band playing on the lawn and guests gorging on steak Fiorentina, Coppola had created a scene that could have come straight out of one of his films. I half expected a young Al Pacino to turn up with a shiner. “In the end, wine and food is really all about show business,” he said.
And if Auction Napa Valley is beyond your means, Adam Lechmere has 8 great affordable California wines…
California – and especially Napa – has a reputation for excessive prices and overblown wines. The stereotype is true to an extent: “cult” wines like Harlan and Screaming Eagle do sell for up to thousands of dollars a bottle, and at every price point there are some pretty hefty wines, loaded with alcohol, oak and ripe fruit. But the pendulum has swung, and restrained Californian wines are now easy to find.
Heitz Cellars Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley, California 2012 Heitz Cellars is Napa aristocracy: Joe Heitz was making wine in the Valley in the 1940s. Now his daughter Kathleen Heitz Myers runs the operation, and style has changed very little: it’s still fresh, modest, with hints of luscious perfume but above all soft tannins, mineral acidity and fine blackcurrant fruit. Finesse and power. Average £40 Justerini & Brooks
Lang and Reed North Coast Cabernet Franc, Napa Valley, California 2014 One of the best Cab Francs in Napa. Fresh hay on the nose, damson, lots of juice, violet perfume, bright gripping tannins, delicate structure with excellent weight and balance. Restrained and delicious £20 average Reid Wines (Tel: 01761 452645)
Smith-Madrone Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, California 2013 From an estate high on Spring Mountain (brothers Charlie and Stuart Smith are pioneers from the 1970s). Bordeaux-like cassis and coffee with a layer of violet perfume. Fine acidity and silky tannins. One of the best Napa Cabernets you’ll taste £40 average Roberson Wine
Au Bon Climat Sanford & Benedict Pinot Noir, Central Coast, California 2012 Sanford & Benedict is a vineyard with the oldest Pinot Noir vines in Santa Barbara: winemakers across California clamour for its grapes. Au Bon Climat’s Pinot is delicate, perfumed, with dark raspberry fruit and suave, silky tannins. A gorgeous wine for a great price £40 average. Noel Young, Hedonism
Saintsbury Chardonnay, Carneros, Napa Valley, California 2012 From one of Napa’s most-respected producers. This is old-fashioned (ie you’ll taste the oak) but by no means overblown. Carneros is just north of San Francisco Bay so benefits from cooling ocean winds. Flavours of pear and white stone fruit held up by brisk acidity. Fine & classic £19 Majestic Wine
Robert Mondavi Napa Valley Fumé Blanc, Napa Valley, California USA 2103 Robert Mondavi called his Sauvignon Blanc ‘Fumé’ to give it edge in the market. This is a lovely example of Napa opulence, with an acidic backbone for structure. Lots of tropical lychee and guava, citrusy notes, very nice weight on the palate. A really seductive mid-level Napa Sauvignon Blanc. £17 average Drinks Direct.co.uk
Twomey Cellars Sauvignon Blanc, Napa Valley, California 2015 The fruit is from Napa and neighbouring Sonoma. Fresh and perfumed with grapefruit, apple and honeyed flavours. Fine acidity and great persistence. £31.00 The Wine Treasury
Moobuzz Chardonnay, Monterey, California, USA 2014 Cool, old-fashioned nose with easy peachy sweetness, very open though and fresh on the palate, interesting hints of lanolin. Excellent £17 Roberson Wine