NAPA—After four days at Auction Napa Valley, I'm officially partied out. Every glass of wine has been drunk, every hand shaked, every plate cleaned, and my party dress is ready for a long soak—along with my aching feet. It's grueling work, all this festivity.
Each year, hundreds of patrons converge on the valley for the party of the year. They come from across the country, from Texas, the east coast, Los Angeles as well as nearer locales—Woodside, Sonoma, Napa and Palo Alto. And they're here for one main reason: the wine. (Okay, that and charity; the auction benefits health and youth services throughout the valley.) It's an exclusive club, really, only a few hundred tickets are sold. The lucky attendees then have the opportunity to bid on mind-boggling lots of equally mind-blowing Napa wine sell for thousands, hundreds of thousands of dollars—even a million dollars. Names like Staglin, Grace Family and Screaming Eagle and so many others command top prices at the event, setting records each year for amounts spent on Napa wines and re-enforcing Napa's top-tier placement in the world of wine.
A newcomer to the event, I spent the weekend trying to learn the ropes. On my first night, Thursday, a well-meaning veteran had this advice: pace yourself. I failed to listen. We drank through ten glasses of incredible Merlot at Duckhorn Vineyards, paired with food from Auberge du Soleil, with several dozen other guests out on the veranda, watching the sun set. Pacing was not in the cards that night. Nor the next.
Friday night, at Gargiulo Vineyards, just off Oakville Cross Road was even more festive. Despite the mosquitoes nibbling my ankles, we drank through much of the family's incredible collection of sparkling, Rose, Chardonnay, Merlot, Cabernet and "Super Oakville" Blend (a local version of Super Tuscan). Afterwards, Jeff Gargiulo passed out cigars and guitars from his personal collection for late-night-revelry. At 11pm, I was ready to head for home. My date stayed well into the night. Pacing, I thought, is for wimps.
But Saturday's auction, which this year raised a record $8.4 million dollars, is the big event of the weekend. And by then, I was tired, hot, sunburned and hung-over. I suddenly realized the advice of Thursday was more than well-intentioned: they were words to live by. Dragging myself to the massive tent set up at Meadowood, I arrived just in time to hear the Staglin lot sell for over a million dollars. Inside the tent, sweat rolling off my forehead and arms, I overheard someone say it was well over 95 degrees inside. The excitement was palpable, despite the heat. As bidders raised and lowered paddles, lots continued to go for $40, $50 and $60,000. I suddenly realized that the charities of Napa Valley, who receive this money, were in for a windfall again this year. Pacing, be damned, I was ready to celebrate with this incredible group of patrons and winemakers (Mike Grgich brushed past me as I entered, wearing his trademark beret). Geena Davis and Ryan Seacrest (of American Idol fame) were here…uh, somewhere. Friends from previous nights' dinners, old acquaintances and new introductions were made. We sweated, smiled and sipped through it all.
Exhausted, I crawled into my bed on Saturday night reminded once again of the words of my friend on Thursday night. Pace yourself. Next year, I thought. Next year.