Few can claim they?ve camped out in the vineyards of Screaming Eagle, no less in a safari tent filled with custom furniture. But Joy Craft can.
The owner of High Point Ventures, an investment company in Woodside, paid $500,000 in 2007 for the Auction Napa Valley lot featuring the camping trip for eight at the exclusive cabernet sauvignon-producing winery in Oakville.
?In the morning I walked in my pj?s through the Screaming Eagle vineyards, coffee in hand, with hot air balloons flying over,? said Craft, the top bidder at the auction for two years running ? 2006 and 2007.
Last year?s top bidder was Sandra Thompson, also of Woodside, who along with her husband, John, spent $1.1 million on a single lot.
With Auction Napa Valley 2009 taking place Saturday, many are curious about these high flyers. The auction, which raises funds for numerous Napa Valley charities, also has a public relations mission: to showcase the valley?s wine with hotly contested lots.
But are top bidders recession-proof or will their generosity be tempered by the current economic downturn? Will there be any record-breaking, champagne-infused, spiraling bids under the white tent at the Meadowood Resort in St. Helena?
Chuck McMinn, co-vintner of Vineyard 29 in St. Helena, expects fewer free-flowing bids. McMinn doubts he?ll reel in as much for this year?s lot as his $160,000 peak for a previous lot.
?People don?t have two sets of wallets, one philanthropic wallet and one ordinary wallet,? he said. ?It?s all tied together.?
The auction, now in its 29th year, is the theme of McMinn?s lot, crafted to play off the name of his winery. It features two 2.9-liter bottles of Vineyard 29 cabernet, a 2.9-carat diamond custom-designed necklace, and nine dinners for two at any restaurant in the U.S. that carries his cabernet sauvignon.
McMinn said most auctions, whether local school fund-raisers or large national charities, have raised 10 to 50 percent less this year than last. ?It?s all over the map.?
Indeed, the plunge in proceeds from the Naples Winter Wine Festival in January surprised many. The Florida auction, which has become the world?s most successful wine fund-raiser, raised roughly $5 million in January, down from $14 million in 2008.
Barbara Banke, co-vintner of Santa Rosa?s Kendall-Jackson Vineyard Estate, wasn?t surprised by the decline itself but rather by the depth of it. Banke and husband Jess Jackson are key sponsors of Sonoma Paradiso, a major Sonoma County wine auction that will take a sabbatical this year because of concerns about the economy ? a decision made late last year. ?We felt it would be more productive to do straight fund raising instead,? Banke said.
Terry Hall, communications director of the Napa Valley Vintners, said he doesn?t expect bidders to donate more than the $10.3 million contributed last year. ?A record breaker in income? Not a chance.?
But Hall said that doesn?t concern vintners because of their ?5 x 5 Community Promise.? In 2007 the vintners made a $25 million pledge to the community that for the next five years, the auction would distribute a minimum of $5 million a year to the charities.
Auction Napa Valley benefits local health, children?s and housing organizations, including Community Health Clinic Ole, Boys & Girls Clubs and Napa Valley Community Housing.