Source: Napa Valley Vintners via Bloomberg
Wine

How to Buy Napa’s Most Exclusive and Hard-to-Get Wines

Last weekend's Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction raked in $6 million, with some bottles fetching $1,000 or more

A group of four Swiss entrepreneurs snagged a prime lot at last weekend’s Premiere Napa Valley barrel auction, splashing out $115,000, or $1,917 a bottle, for the 2013 Brand Double Barrel 1588 Cabernet Sauvignon. 

“We’re each going to take 15 bottles and drink them ourselves,” said Gregor Greber, who grinned and admitted they got carried away by emotion. 

If you go by the record total of $6 million the annual trade auction raked in last weekend, market thirst for expensive Napa cabernet is alive and well. Nine wines among the 225 lots, mostly from the 2013 vintage, brought a price of $1,000 a bottle or more. 

Think of the one-of-a-kind micro-lots of 60 to 240 bottles made specifically for the auction as the best of Napa’s best. 

The room was buzzing about the 2013 vintage.
The room was buzzing about the 2013 vintage.
Source: Bob McClenahan/Napa Valley Vintners via Bloomberg

Uniqueness is the draw for collectors such as Greber’s group and others who like to own what most people can’t get. The Brand lot is a special blend from a vineyard on Pritchard Hill made by in-demand winemaker Philippe Melka. 

But don’t worry. You can get your hands on most other wines in the auction, because the vast majority of the buyers taking them home are retailers. You just have to know what to buy and where to get it.

Before the auction, I prowled the room where vintners stood next to upturned barrels splashing out glasses of their offerings. As buyers finalized decisions about what to bid on, I scribbled notes on my favorites. The buzz in the room was about the hot winemakers, the new names, how good the 2013 vintage is. Such words as “epic” and “stellar” were tossed around. The couple of hundred wines I tasted were full of complexity, freshness, and intensity, better overall than the much-touted 2012s and, for that matter, way better than the 2013 Bordeaux. I found a lot to like. 

Tools of the trade.
Tools of the trade.
Source: Bob McClenahan/Napa Valley Vintners via Bloomberg

In a private room, Gary Fisch, owner of Gary’s Wine & Marketplace in New Jersey, and his team shared assessments of what they’d tasted and plotted their buying strategy. They were selecting for 80 VIP clients who’d expressed interest, but Fisch assured me there would be some bottles left for his other customers. 

“They trust our judgment,” Fisch said. “Some [buyers ask for] anything under $300 a bottle; others specify something from the Oakville or Howell Mountain districts.” Wielding paddle #6, he pulled down 13 lots. 

The biggest purchaser was Maryland-based chain Total Wine & More, which owns 113 stores in 16 states. They don’t buy for particular VIPs but offer the wines when they arrive in bottle to all their customers.  You can reserve those you want in advance. Senior buyer Cristina Pearce, whose paddle #1 seemed to be constantly in motion, snagged 25 lots. 

Collectors in Tokyo can turn to Nakagawa Wine Co., which specializes in California wine. Owner Ichizo Nakagawa, who was wearing his lucky orange jacket and wild tie, took one of the auction’s five most expensive lots, Pulido-Walker Cabernet Melanson Vineyard The Possible II made by winemaker-of-the-moment Thomas Rivers Brown. 

Nine wines among the 225 lots, mostly from the 2013 vintage, brought a price of $1,000 a bottle or more.
Nine wines among the 225 lots, mostly from the 2013 vintage, brought a price of $1,000 a bottle or more.
Source: Bob McClenahan/Napa Valley Vintners via Bloomberg

The other way to get your hands on Premiere wines, of course, is to form your own group, like the Cliffewood Wine Syndicate, a group of 20 wine lovers from Arkansas, who snapped up superhot Gandona Estate wines. 

Greber and his Swiss group are already planning for next year. 

“We’ll come on our vacations,’’ he said. “We’re doing this for fun. “

Here are my best-bet picks. Expect to pay big bucks. (For the full list of Premiere wines and who bought them, go to www.premierenapawines.com.)

The Top Wines From the Premiere Auction 

2013 Kata Benny’s Blend

This lusciously textured blend of cabernet and petite sirah from 60-year-old vines comes from a hot new winery. (Available at www.nakagawa-wine.co.jp)

Think of the one-of-a-kind micro-lots of 60 to 240 bottles made specifically for the auction as the best of Napa’s best.

Think of the one-of-a-kind micro-lots of 60 to 240 bottles made specifically for the auction as the best of Napa’s best.

Source: Napa Valley Vintners via Bloomberg

2013 Memento Mori RTL Cabernet Sauvignon

This single-vinyard-barrel selection, made by up-and-comer Sam Kaplan, is for those who want big, rich, sun-kissed Napa cab. (Available at www.meritagewinemarket.com)

2013 Corison Premiere Reserve 

One of the auction’s most elegant wines, this blend includes all of Corison’s cabernet lots, including the famous Kronos vineyard. (Available at www.deandeluca.com in St. Helena, Calif.) 

2013 Robert Mondavi Winery Red Wine, To Kalon Vineyard, Monastery Block 

A dark, sumptuous, and very layered cabernet blend from one of the best blocks in a historic vineyard. (Available at www.totalwine.com.)  

2013 Shafer Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon, Sunspot Vineyard 

This is a plush, powerful, ripe wine from a vineyard block that is the backbone of the winery’s cult wine Hillside Select. (Available at www.bountyhunterwine.com.)

2013 Larkmead Vineyards Three Centuries Cabernet Sauvignon 

This bright, concentrated, 100 percent cabernet from a single vineyard block combines red fruit and mineral tastes.  (Available at www.wineontheway.com.)

2013 Aloft Cabernet Sauvignon 

A complex, lush wine, it comes from a single vineyard at 1,650 feet of elevation on Howell Mountain. (Available at www.garyswine.com.)

2013 Spottswoode Estate Vineyard & Winery

Vivid blackberry fruit and deep, rich, velvety texture are the hallmarks of this special block and barrel selection. (Available at www.winelibrary.com.) 

2013 Continuum Estate Proprietary Blend

This red from Pritchard Hill has a wonderfully velvety texture and succulent fruit with overtones of earth. (Available at www.winehouse.com.)

2013 Notre Vin Twin Brothers Cabernet Sauvignon

Striking floral aromas and classic notes of red fruit and cassis mark this stunning blend. (Available at www.winelibrary.com.)

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