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Napa Valley Wine Auction Kick-Off and Taste Napa Valley

As a Gemini, I’ve spent many birthdays celebrating during the four days of festivities leading up to the Napa Valley wine auction, now in its 29th year. The official kick-off begins the first Thursday of June, which this year was June 4. For the kick-off, wineries create fun events to showcase their wines and build buzz for the auction.

Our first event was at Tor Kenward Family Wines, which was held at a famous Napa Valley landmark, Mustard Grill. The afternoon was gorgeous and sunny, and the outdoor garden setting could not have been better. Among the delicious wines at their self-titled “Second Annual Corkscrew Massacre” was the 2006 TOR Cabernet Sauvignon, Mast Vineyard, which was poured by Tor himself, wearing what appears to be a signature purple shirt as it looked identical to the one he wore in a picture. I loved the Cabs – rich and balanced and expressive of Napa Valley terroir.

Next was a really fun evening event at Tres Sabores, a small family-owned ranch located on the western Rutherford benchland of the Napa Valley where organically certified Zinfandel, Cabernet, Petite Syrah, and Petite Verdot grapes are grown. The single-vineyard wines include Tres Sabores Estate Zinfandel, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Sauvignon Blanc from the Farina Vineyard of Sonoma Mountain. A fun paella-making demonstration rounded off the tasting of Tres Sabores wines. Winemaker and owner Julie Johnson greeted guests in her typical warm and friendly fashion, and when the wind picked up, Julie brought dozens of coats from the guest house for guests to wear. Jon Engelskirger, Julie’s husband, is consulting wine-maker and had been on my television show talking about the auction a few years back.

The key event on Friday, June 5, was the Taste Napa Valley / Auction Napa Valley event which took place at Mondavi winery and offered guests small plates from Napa’s best restaurants and the opportunity to taste barrel samples from Napa’s best wineries and place bids. I was pleased to see Margrit Mondavi, wife of the late Robert Mondavi, looking well and being her typical charming self. Guests tasted from barrels, with winemakers and/or assistant winemakers behind the tables answering questions. Among the wineries offering samples was Far Niente, which I’m proud to say had honored me by awarding me a fellowship for my wine writing at the 2009 Symposium for Wine Writers held at Meadowood in the Napa Valley.

Spotted at the festive Taste Napa Valley event were Tor Kenwood, who alarmed me by not wearing his signature purple, and his charming wife Susan. “How do you feel about being named for Tor’s most affordable wine?” I asked her, since many of the Tor Cabs retail for more than $150 and the 2007 TOR Susan Cuvee (rated 91 – 93 by Stephen Tanzer) retails for $48. Susan seemed very cool with it, yet Tor admitted that when he named the cuvee it did cause him concern. What a fun and devoted couple! Also spotted was Julie Johnson, pouring her Por Que wine behind the table and out socializing with the crowd. I also said howdy to Barry Wiss, VP of communications and trade relations at Trinchero winery, who was pouring some excellent Cabs, and Bernard Portet, President of Clos Du Val, who had also been on my television show.

If you have never been to the Napa Valley you would enjoy this auction weekend very much. Imagine the Napa Valley wine labels in your cellar coming to life, in human form, and socializing with one another. In one area stands a Clos Du Val chatting with a Tor Kenwood, while in another a Tres Sabores whispers with a Trinchero. The winemakers are everywhere and honestly appreciate answering any and all questions about their wines.

This year, Auction Napa Valley celebrates 29 years of incredible community fundraising. Auction Napa Valley was established in 1981 by the Napa Valley Vintners to raise needed funds for healthcare, youth services, and affordable housing non-profits. The Auction convenes the first weekend in June each year. Since that first Live Auction, held as it is today on the lawn at the beautiful Meadowood Napa Valley, Napa Vintners association has been able to give to the community more than $85 million.

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