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Giving Gone Wild

Columnist: Christina Julian
August, 2015 Issue

Christina Julian
All articles by columnist

It seemed odd, but so did the woman wearing gold-lamé moon boots on an 85-degree day.

When I moved to Napa Valley from the big city, several scoffed at the idea and sealed it with an, “It’ll never last” swat on the back. Yet, six years later, here I am. For every friend and family member who refers to my Calistoga homestead as a sleepy little town, I counter with examples to the contrary, starting with the way we’ve been known to throw our wine and loot around for a worthy cause. I’ve lost count of the number of events and parties that commence with the first burst of bud break and continue well beyond harvest. We may be small, but we give big.

The good, the bad and the ugly

This year, I was lucky enough to attend the Grand Dame of do-gooding, Auction Napa Valley. The Barrel Auction sported sips from 120 barrels, food from more than 40 of Napa Valley’s finest grub masters and drew more than 2,000 attendees. Aside from what looked like a rampant outbreak of plastic surgery gone wild, this was a very good showing.
As I lingered outside of the barrel room at Hall St. Helena, the roar of the space was near deafening, which stirred my former city self. Once inside, it was virtually impossible to carry on a conversation, which also reminded me of home. Then again, who needs to hear anything with so many exemplary wines to taste?
With energy and noise levels flying high, it felt as though nothing could dampen the day—until it did. I detected it instantly. The loud clacking sound of the bidding boards that had so mesmerized me the year prior had vanished. Gone with them, the jolt of sound that screamed out whenever a lesser bid got booted off the board. The fact that these bid tracking devices were replaced with a bunch of muted flat screens did nothing to quell my uneasiness.
While I fully endorse the advancement of technology, I also think there’s a time and place for change—and this, in my opinion, wasn’t one of them. This advancement made watching the bidding process about as bearable as computing my taxes on an oversized computer monitor. Others around me seemed equally irked, which made me feel more validated and less nitpicky. The wine made it easy enough to forgive this one faux pas. Several sips in, I was fairly certain this aesthetic change would be to the detriment of bidding but, in the end, it barely impacted those with wallets big enough to bid (or care), as this leg of the auction broke a record when it pulled in $1.9 million this year. The next day, the live auction at Meadowood came in at $15.8 million, which was down from last year, but when you hit double digit millions, it’s hard to find fault.
Pam Simpson, CEO/president of the St. Helena Chamber of Commerce, commented on the impact of the auction: “The benefit of the event, the quality of guests attending, the general positive buzz in town…everyone is thankful for the great press afterward that secures Napa Valley as a luxury destination and showcases St. Helena and Meadowood as the host.”
While I’m often adverse to change, at times, it can be welcome, especially when it stems from “mob” roots. As I sipped my way around one of the many outdoor pavilions, I noticed that people with instruments peppered the place. It seemed odd, but so did the woman wearing gold-lamé moon boots on an 85-degree day. As I contemplated the irony, I got bowled over by what felt like an impromptu operatic extravaganza. Musicians played as singers belted out in melodic wonderment—Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, “Ode to Joy.” It wasn’t until I noticed the jean-clad conductor (Mike Ling) perched on an upright wine barrel in the middle of the crowd, that I realized this was a flash mob with no less than 80 instrumentalists and vocalists from the Bay Area (their “mob” is called Volti). This musical note carried over to the live auction, when singer-songwriter John Legend performed prior to sale of Auction Lot 31—a joint venture between Legend and Raymond Vineyards, which commanded a cool $850,000. It was the top lot of the day.
As the Cracker Jack pop of confetti burst over the crowd at the barrel auction’s end, I was reminded just how powerful the wines of the Napa Valley are, in ways that have everything—and nothing at all—to do with taste.



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