Just back from 2011 Premiere Napa Valley, the mid-winter fundraiser for the Napa Valley Vintnerʼs Association. Members of the NVV concoct one of kind fantasy blends and auction them off in five or ten case lots to the trade. Over the last decade the prices have become nonsensical, as the intent is to resell them to consumers, which appears to work in Tokyo and L.A. Not on the East Coast where First Growth Bordeaux can be purchased for much less! This yearʼs top lots: Scarecrow (my pick) $125,000 for five cases, Shafer (a close second) $37,000 for five cases, Ovid (a stellar newcomer from Pritchard Hill) $33,000 for five cases. Regardless of the zany prices, this is a great event to break up the dreary winter, see some green (in more than one sense) and most importantly connect with owners and winemakers of all stripes. Weʼve been to many of these through the years (we sat it out 2010 after our cries to lower prices were pleasantly declined or boldly laughed at in 2009). The stellar 2007 vintage made attending this year a must, we are glad we did. Every visit to Napa Valley restores oneʼs interest in American wine even if the Las Vegas factor seems to increase, this year a fleet of logoed Lexus Courtesy Cars? I kept looking for Tiger Woods.

Before Saturdayʼs grand event wineries across the valley host open houses and show case current commercial releases as well as past vintages. The event host by John and Doug Shafer at their winery is always the most generous as the family pours multiple vintages of the uber-collectable Hillside Select! In a poignant moment John talked to me about the need for the “fly-ins” (my term for wealthy non-resident owners) to support the health care efforts for the vineyard workers. This year there was less talk of points scores than I can recall. These events have decidedly less Ferrari factor than the main event and there is time to really chat. Although snow flurries touched the valley floor on Friday afternoon, the day was fantastic, as were many of the wines.

There were three distinct faces to the vintners this year; business as usual, relief the economy is starting to stir and genuine appreciation for our support. The first group is not worth covering; micro production and massive wealth make it unfazed. The second and third showed more humanity than has been witnessed in recent years. The discussions of partnership were humbling and motivating. “Let me introduce you to Lower Falls, theyʼve been with us since the beginning...” West Coast producers generally seem to have a much shorter term view than Europeans but that was less in evidence this year than ever. More than once I was told “guys like you are the future”!

To a man (our contingent in ʼ11 was mono gendered) we found the quality of the wines across the board to be the highest weʼve ever tasted at PNV. 2007 has generated a lot of buzz, the ʻ08ʼs and ʻ09ʼs are following suit. Napa Valley, home to less that two percent of California wines, did not disappoint. The general knock on these wines: too ripe and lacking acidity seems to be post peak, people were openly talking about controlling alcohol levels! The chocolate/mocha low acidity monsters seemed less evident, dare I say there were wines with minerality.