Auction Napa Valley 2015

The tents are down, the confetti has been picked up, and yet the memory still lingers. Auction Napa Valley was a phenomenal event that took place over four days, yet its impact will be felt throughout the year. This event is one that funds many, many charities throughout Napa Valley. The Napa Valley Vintners contribute proceeds from Auction Napa Valley to community health and children’s education throughout Napa Valley. This is an event that not only makes a difference for days, weeks, and throughout the year, but which can also make a difference for a lifetime for many.

The Auction is an event I look forward to every year. It can include, based on the ticket purchased, a welcome dinner, barrel auction, winery dinner, live auction and farewell brunch. Need I say, it’s all accompanied with great Napa Valley wine. This year, we attended dinner at St. Supery and enjoyed the ambiance and the wine. Having conversations with the owner and head of hospitality provided some insights for me into the “interactive wine experiences” offered at St. Supery, making it a must to return with friends. Learning and education are at the heart of their offerings – oh, yes, and fun drinking wine!

The main Auction event that I get myself ready for is the barrel auction. This year, the barrel auction was hosted by HALL St. Helena, which is a beautiful property. There were 120 barrels of wine that you could taste from. Each vintner donates 10 cases (12 bottles per case) from each barrel to the highest bidders. For me, it is a bit exciting just to compete with others for a case of wine from a barrel that holds exceptional future value for me.

Truly, one cannot taste through 120 barrels and maintain any ability to discern the quality of the wine – let alone be standing up! Here is where the pre-work comes in to the pursuit. The barrel auction is attended by thousands, and you do not want to be outbid and drop off the board. My approach is to establish a taste list. These are wines that I would like to have in my cellar and cannot purchase other ways. I also look for unique blends that will not be available commercially. Many of the vintners present lots that are exclusive for the auction. This year the Napa Valley Auction went electronic, which made it easier to stay on top of the bid boards. I could always be in touch with where I was on the board and know if I was in danger of falling off. Oh yes, and I always carry my spit cup. This is the only way I can maintain some clarity on the wine I am tasting.

This year, I walked away with two great wines. The first was Outpost, which is one of my favorite wineries. They presented their 2013 Immigrant Blend, which is cabernet franc and cabernet crafted by Thomas Rivers Brown, their winemaker. This is a deep, rich, complex wine with layers upon layers of flavors. The second lot was a case from Turnbull. This is a winery that has come a long way with their cabernet over the last several years, crafting textured, big wines with excellent fruit. Their winemaker, Peter Heitz, has had a big impact; and many wines garner big scores from the critics. I purchased a case of 2013 Cabernet from the Fortuna Vineyard.

There is much more to this event and look for more from future blogs. I was even lucky enough to be the high bidder on a lunch tasting with Kale Anderson. He is the winemaker for Pahlmeyer and has started his own label called Kale. He is noted as one of the up and coming winemakers in the Valley. I can hardly wait to have lunch and learn from him.

Awesome event – think about putting it on your calendar for 2016, it will be the first weekend in June.



Mending Wall: The New Kid on the Trail

“Mending Wall” is a poem by the twentieth century American poet Robert Frost (1874-1963). The poem is about two men who mend the fence that separates their properties, yet it brings them together. This is part of the inspiration for the Mending Wall, a new winery located on the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley. Wine is that wonderful beverage that brings people together, and the Mending Wall is the vision of three families who come together in an endeavor to make wine of great quality and flavor. There are excellent beginnings here on the Trail, since this is an endeavor of talented vintners and a highly-regarded winemaker.

None of those involved is new to the winemaking business, but this is a new beginning to “press the boundaries” in an effort to produce the best expression of the grape. At Mending Wall, Frank & Kathy Dotzler (of Outpost Winery and Vineyard) and Donna Walker & Mark Pulido (of Pulido-Walker) come together with winemaker Thomas Rivers Brown to craft a new set of quality wines. They are off and running!

Mending Wall is an upbeat and cool setting. It is hip and invites you in to the tasting room. The winery is set among established vineyards, yet the building is brand new. It is located in St. Helena on the Silverado Trail, and great care has been taken to respect the land and use resources wisely. A keen eye has been kept on the use of renewable resources, and the property is decorated with beautiful and interesting repurposed items. The staff is warm and friendly, and the winery has the vibe of a cool club inside with a long bar and several tables set up for tasting. There are many comfortable seating areas outside, as well, and it is up to you where you want to enjoy the wine and views.

On our visit, we tasted through three wines. These are the first releases from Mending Wall and were all very approachable. We started with a refreshing white blend made from Sauvignon Blanc and Semillion. There were great stone fruit aromas and flavors that were rounded out with the softness of the Semillion. We also had a young Petit Sirah that was big yet expressive for such a young wine. The final wine of the set was a lovely cabernet that was fruity and smooth. These wines bode well for the enterprise and partnership of the Mending Wall but most of all for us. They are here to offer great wine to enjoy and share.

The Mending Wall is open for tastings by appointment only. You can check it out at


Gandona Winery: Scenic Views and Lovely Wine

Pritchard Hill is a special place within Napa Valley. Some have called it the “Rodeo Drive” of the wine country. Why is that? It starts with the soil, which is compacted volcanic rock. This plot of land sits on the eastern ridge of central Napa Valley and   rises to heights of 1800 feet overlooking Lake Hennessey. The region produces mountain fruit that leads to profoundly deep, flavorful wines that are rich and polished. Located here are some fine wineries, and this includes Gandona Winery.

Gandona is the vision of Manuel Pires, a driven vintner dedicated to producing world class wine. He bought this property and delivered his first estate wine in 2010, enlisting the support of talented, world class individuals to bring his vision to life. The winemaker at Gandona is Phillipe Melka and managing the vineyard is Jim Barbour. These are highly talented and sought after partners in the valley. This represents the commitment that Manuel brings to the quality of his wine.

On our visit, we were met by Kenny Koda who is knowledgeable and experienced in the valley. He shared with us the background of this impressive sight and, trust me, even the floor of the tasting room is gorgeous here. He walked us out to the expanse of the vineyards to see the beauty that unfolds around the winery. The vines are a sprawling sea of green at this time of the year with heavy canopies of leaves.

Our tasting was of the 2012s. Gandona produces two wines which again are both estate only. The commitment is to produce the best expression of the estate and the vines; therefore, no grapes are brought in from other vineyards. These are deep rich expressions of the “hill” with dark fruit and layers of flavor. There are two cabernets: Encosta and Gandona Estate. Encosta (“slope”) come from the terraced hillsides of the estate and its rich red, volcanic soil. The 2012 Gandona Estate is an unbridled expression of Pritchard Hill with dark rich fruit and great texture on the palate.  Here is the review from Parker:

Living up to the potential predicted last year, the 2012 Cabernet Sauvignon Estate is fabulous. One hundred percent Cabernet Sauvignon aged 22 months in 80% new French oak, there are 500 cases of this terrific wine. With its inky purple color, a glorious nose of blackberry and blueberry liqueur, full-bodied mouthfeel, dense, pure notes interwoven with camphor, charcoal embers and spring flowers, this is stunning stuff and a great example of the Estate’s potential. Drink now – 2025+. 96 points.

This is a winery to visit for the wine and the views.