Margrit Mondavi said that if her late husband, Robert, were able to witness Auction Napa Valley's recordbreaking take of $16 million on Saturday, he'd say, "Well done."
More than 1,000 people gathered under the white tent at St. Helena's Meadowood Resort and witnessed an abundance of six-digit bids. The disposable income was as free-flowing as the cabernet being poured.
"I think we have a room full of angels," said Gary Liberstein, district attorney for Napa County. "This year is over the top."
The Napa fundraiser, now in its 33rd year, benefits health, youth and affordable housing nonprofit programs in the Napa Valley. It is the main attraction of four days of tastings, tours and meals.
This year's expected weekend take of $16 million broke the previous record of $10.5 million raised in 2005. In addition, the $14.3 million raised in Saturday's live auction more than doubled last year's $6.1 million.
Napa's live auction also trumped Naples Winter Wine Festival, which raised $8.5 million in January. The Naples, Fla., auction had eclipsed the Napa Valley event as the nation's top wine-related fundraiser in recent years, raising about $12 million in 2011 and 2012.
In the most dramatic two minutes of bidding, a hotly contested lot spiraled to $800,000. The coveted lot featured a first-ever comprehensive vertical tasting of 20 vintages of Harlan Estate cabernet.
Gary Rieschel of Shanghai's Qiming Ventures bought the lot and shrugged off the price tag.
"You don't come to the Auction Napa Valley to save money on wine," he joked. "You want to do something that honors the valley."
Rieschel added that he picked this particular lot because he had an amazing experience partaking in a vertical tasting at Shafer Vineyards in the past.
Barbara Banke, owner of Santa Rosa-based Jackson Family Wines, also was a top bidder, spending close to a cool half-million. Banke bought a lot for $210,000 and another one for $220,000.
The first lot was a joint venture between the Antinori Family Wine Estate and Opus One, and it features a whirlwind trip through Europe, with stops in Paris, Bordeaux, Florence and Chianti before a stay in San Francisco and Napa Valley.
Banke said she bought the lot "because we're already going to be in those places so it's easy, and the Antinoris are lovely people."
Yet another top bidder was Jeffrey Miller of Miami, who bought three lots for a grand total of $880,000. Meanwhile other bidders, who were not available for interview, doubled up on one lot for $510,000 each, raising it to a million-plus.
A wide-eyed Kirk Jeffery, owner of Santa Rosa's Maaco Auto Body Repair and Auto Painting, said he was pleasantly surprised by outpouring of goodwill.
"When you hear about $800,000 going for four bottles of wine, you think, how can that be?" Jeffery said. "But when you realize that nice people want to do it for a great cause, well, yes, then it makes sense."
(Wine writer Peg Melnik can be reached at 521-5310 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)