The Ottumwa Courier

Community News Network

March 11, 2013

Golden woman hangs upside down, pours wine at wild Napa auction

"We're trending above Nascar and the Oscars on twitter," crows auctioneer Fritz Hatton, as he opens the 17th Premiere Napa Valley trade barrel auction with sharp bangs of his gavel.

Everyone cheers, primed to bid big on cabernet after a week of wooing by vintners at tastings and parties. The wildest event was Raymond Vineyards' "Napa Gras," where a woman in long black gloves and abbreviated gold body suit poured wine while hanging upside down.

Napa's annual February event serves as a barometer of demand for expensive Napa cabs.

The 211 one-of-a-kind, not-yet-bottled cuvees offered in five, 10, or 20-case lots represent each winery's best of the best. Most are cabernets from the 2011 vintage, so the pre- auction tastings provide a gauge to the year's overall quality and an opportunity to scout out the valley's hot new names.

The big room at the Culinary Institute of America in St. Helena is crowded with rowdy retailers, restaurateurs, importers, distributors and media from 39 states and nine countries.

Ichizo Nakagawa, owner of Tokyo's Nakagawa Wine Co. Ltd., which specializes in California wine, is sporting a bright orange jacket and shirt with a wild striped tie and a golfer's tan.

His son Sei, a former bond trader who is now company president, keeps an eye on the spreadsheet open on his white laptop and the auction catalog.

Nakagawa used to design golf courses and run the family lumber business, sampled his first California wine in the 1970s, and started his wine business in 1985.

"Once I tasted Ridge Vineyards cabernet I stopped drinking Chateau Latour," Nakagawa says, as his son translates. "I perceived huge potential for California wine in the Japanese market. It's a useful tool for networking. You can drink it without food."

Immortalized at home as a California wine expert in the influential Japanese wine manga series "Drops of God" (Kami no Shizuku), Nakagawa is equally famous in Napa.

His winning $125,000 bid in 2011 for five cases of 2009 Scarecrow, the highest ever bid at Premiere, drew a standing ovation and a flood of emails from buyers. That's $2,083 a bottle, more than a 2009 Chateau Lafite costs today.

"High-end Japanese people want rare California wines they can't purchase easily," he says.

So do Americans. Robert Trone, co-owner of Total Wine & More, an independent wine retailer with 89 superstores, paid $75,000 for the most expensive lot, 10 cases of the luscious 2011 "We Will Rock You" cabernet blend from Bevan Cellars and Chateau Boswell Winery. He also splashed out $50,000 for five cases ($833 a bottle) of tannic, powerful 2011 Shafer Sunspot Vineyard cabernet, produced from the tiny parcel of land that also provides the heart of their cult cab Hillside Select.

"It's for a good cause," Trone says, with a grin. Auction proceeds help fund the Napa Valley Vintners association.

Nakagawa is more cautious. "This year is complicated," he says. "2011 is not the greatest year. 2012 is better." Still, he bought five cases of plush 2011 Revana Family Vineyard Premier Cuvee cabernet (one of my top wines) for $15,000 and another five of spicy 2011 Lewis Cellars cabernet for $26,000, among other lots.

Like most auction buyers here, Nakagawa has commissions from customers for specific lots; the rest of his purchases will fatten his inventory.

I was more impressed than I expected with the 2011 vintage, a year vintners spin as "challenging," due to heavy rains right before harvest. Winemakers who picked early or managed to prevent mildew and rot, made delicious wines that have lovely, juicy fruit, bright acidity, and aren't buried under the high alcohol that often plagues Napa cabs. On the other hand, many wineries failed to get it right.

My top picks among these 2011s include the complex earth- and-cherry 2011 Corison Winery Premiere Reserve; the bright, rich, cassis-flecked 2011 Kapcsandy Family Winery cabernet; a dark, intense 2011 Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery cabernet; silky-textured 2011 Notre Vin winery's "One Hundred Vines" cabernet; and the concentrated, plummy 2011 Continuum Estate cab blend.

I also made some new impressive discoveries: the supple, elegant 2011 St. Helena Winery cabernet sauvignon, just its second vintage; a pure, violet-scented 2011 Detert Family Vineyards cabernet franc, made from 60-year-old vines; and the ripe, opulent 2011 Patel Tourmaline Vineyard cabernet.

Tracking down Premiere wines outside the auction used to be tough, though now the Napa Valley Vintners posts on its website the names of the winning bidders for each lot. Now may be a good time to contact them if you want to buy before the Dow climbs any higher.

 

1
Text Only
Community News Network
  • VIDEO: Boston bomb scare defendant appears in court

    The man accused of carrying a backpack containing a rice cooker near the Boston Marathon finish line on the anniversary of the bombings was arraigned Wednesday. He's being held on $100,000 bail.

    April 17, 2014

  • Consumer spending on health care jumps as Affordable Care Act takes hold

    Nancy Beigel has known since September that she would need hernia surgery. She couldn't afford it on her $11,000 yearly income until she became eligible for Medicaid in January through President Barack Obama's signature health care law.

    April 17, 2014

  • The case for separate beds

    The other night I slept on a twin bed in the guest room of the house I share with my husband and our two kids.
    It was the best night's sleep I've had in years.

    April 17, 2014

  • Raw oysters spike U.S. rise in bacterial infections, CDC reports

    Raw oysters, so good with hot sauce, increasingly can carry something even more unsettling to the stomach: A bacteria linked to vomiting, diarrhea and pain.

    April 17, 2014

  • To sleep well, you may need to adjust what you eat and when

    Sleep.  Oh, to sleep.  A good night's sleep is often a struggle for more than half of American adults.  And for occasional insomnia, there are good reasons to avoid using medications, whether over-the-counter or prescription.

    April 16, 2014

  • Doctors to rate cost effectiveness of expensive cancer drugs

    The world's largest organization of cancer doctors plans to rate the cost effectiveness of expensive oncology drugs, and will urge physicians to use the ratings to discuss the costs with their patients.

    April 16, 2014

  • Low blood-sugar levels make for grousing spouses

    Husbands and wives reported being most unhappy with their spouses when their blood-sugar levels were lowest, usually at night, according to research released this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Missing a meal, dieting or just being hungry may be the reason, researchers said.

    April 16, 2014

  • Screen Shot 2014-04-16 at 12.51.22 PM.png VIDEO: Toddler climbs into vending machine

    A child is safe after climbing into and getting stuck inside a claw crane machine at a Lincoln, Neb., bowling alley Monday.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • portraitoflotte.jpg VIDEO: From infant to teen in four minutes

    Dutch filmmaker Frans Hofmeester’s time lapse video of his daughter, Lotte — created by filming her every week from her birth until she turned 14 — has become a viral sensation.

    April 16, 2014 1 Photo

  • Victimized by the 'marriage penalty'

    In a few short months, I'll pass the milestone that every little girl dreams of: the day she swears - before family and God, in sickness and in health, all in the name of love - that she's willing to pay a much higher tax rate.

    April 15, 2014

Obituaries
Record
Facebook
AP National